Fresh start

As consumer resolve to eat healthier and diet in the new year, retailers can be a valuable resource.

By Charlotte Barnard

With the arrival of the new year comes the ritual of making resolutions. Losing weight typically clocks in at number five or even higher on Americans’ lists. So how can retailers help their customers improve their diets and trim their waistlines while making their own bottom lines healthier? The answer may be by paying closer attention to where consumers are making buying decisions, which these days is online as well as in the store.

To grab the attention of shoppers looking to up their consumption of fruits, vegetables and other good-for-you foods, suppliers and retailers must work together to develop tools to communicate with customers. Co-operative advertising, national and locally themed promotional campaigns, creative product displays, POP material, demonstrations, and collateral such as recipe cards can all help define the retailer as the destination for healthy eating.

“Our category managers help retailers develop category strategies, design planograms, perform sales analysis, conduct business reviews, and assess promotional and pricing initiatives,” says Dionysios Christ­ou, vice president of marketing for Coral Gables, Fla.-based Del Monte Fresh Produce.

In 2010, the company ran a national promotion called “Buy a Bunch. Lose a Bunch,” which is aimed at promoting healthy lifestyle choices through the consumption of ba­nanas. In addition to traditional in-store signage Del Montes enlists social and mobile media to connect with customers and educate them on the importance of fruits.

As more Americans prepare more of their meals at home, they scrutinize what they put in the grocery cart. Retailers can help them focus on nutrition. “We have a program called Fruitrition, which we trademarked, that highlights the health benefits of fruit,” say Mac Riggan, vice president of marketing for Chelan Fresh, based in Chelan, Wash. In addition to POS features such as a high-graphic bin and tote bags for apples, they provide brochures with recipes and information on health benefits. “It’s not season specific,” he says, “but it’s really effective in the new year.” The Fruitrition program is supported with the website, and, the company’s site.

“Everyone wants to have that new wonderfruit,” says Dan Crowley, sales manager of Well-Pict Berries, a fully integrated grower/packer/shipper based in Watsonville, Calif. “Strawberries, for instance, are high in folic acid, anti oxidants and vitamin C.” In winter when quantities are smaller, Well-Pict promotes what Crowley calls “the nutriceutical value” to remind customers they can enjoy strawberries with anything—from salads to ice cream to a splash of balsamic vinegar.”

Coordinated effort
“We developed a new display box and coordinating bags, which communicates the healthfulness of apples,” says Suzanne Wolter, director of marketing for Rainier Fruit Co., a Selah, Wash.-based grower, packer and marketer of fresh apples, pears, cherries and blueberries. “We’ve also added a QR code readable by most smart phones. The QR code links consumers to a page on our website that will have usage suggestions, recipes, variety specifics and growing region facts.” The QR code was also added to provide information about the origins of the produce.

There are about 80 commodity boards, and virtually all have a deep digital presence as well as traditional collateral such as recipe booklets for retailers at no charge.

“Retailers should focus on the produce department as the true ‘all-natural health center’ of the store,” says Wolter. “They should communicate usage and health related benefits in their ads, on-line and through in-store signage especially around the first of the year when consumers are more focused in this area.” In addition to the health benefits, the varieties within the various produce categories immediately makes the shopper aware of what is new and different. “The amount of flavors available to promote is staggering,” says Wolter.

Thanks to year-round availability, there is no lack of supply of fresh fruits and vegetables to promote. “We have more than 100 million boxes of fruit that come north,” says Tom Tjerandsen, managing director of the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association, based in Sonoma, Calif. “More than 50,000 tons of blueberries are scheduled to come to the U.S. from Chile, up more than 20% from year to year.”  The Association put together a guide for best practices for fruit, which includes standards for care, handling, temperature and display, on its website,

“Many produce items are impulse buys,” says Christou, so making displays enticing is extremely important. “We encourage retailers to use brochures, price cards, secondary displays and recipe cards to their full potential in order to attract and inform consumers.”

Spread the word
Once a promotional theme has been established, industry observers suggest that retailers use a mix of  print and online advertising to spread the word. “Take a look at retailers who are doing an exceptional job working with their customer base to provide information that’s useful to them,” says Tjerandsen. “Many now have consumer affairs directors who are writing articles or vertical columns, focusing on the best aspects of fruits and vegetables.”

While retailers can use their own websites to promote fresh produce for a healthy lifestyle, they can also place ads on other branded sites where their customer is likely to spend time. “I look at who I’m trying to reach,” says Larry Andrews, retail marketing director of the Seattle-based Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI). He says whether it’s lifestyle or sustainability, there are established, well-trafficked sites to support banner advertising and an opportunity to link from there to the company website.

In-store cooking demonstrations reinforce the ease of healthful home food preparation, observers note. “Bringing a product to life for a consumer is important and sampling programs can do that,” he says. “And it can be done right at the case with co-op partners, like a spice company or a Dole bagged salad.”

Some retail chains hold consumer events where they invite shoppers to come for presentations on new and interesting techniques to prepare fruits and vegetables. “It’s a good way to reaffirm to shoppers that they are important to the chain,” says Tjerandsen.

When it comes to seasonal merchandising such as the new year, sampling menu ideas also translates to more sales. Experts say it is important to let the customer taste the product, such as fruit, in the store while they are thinking about meal planning.

Recent innovations in portion sizes for fresh fruit and packaging make it easier for the consumer to sample products and then adopt them as a lifestyle, experts note.

Last spring Del Monte introduced its Del Monte Gold extra sweet 24-ounce cored pineapple cylinder in a flexible pouch. Easy to open and designed to help reduce its environmental footprint, it also contains a handle for portability, according to company officials.

Perfect portions
Packaging decisions also influence purchase when value is perceived, and shopping behavior shows that consumers still buy more when they see they are getting it for less. Industry observers suggest that carrying a larger size in the winter can actually improve sales. “Customers recognize it’s a better value,” says Tjerandsen.

As for seafood, frozen means fresh thanks to improvements in freezing methods and packaging. “The frozen case is the fastest growing category,” says Andrews. “More and more product is available year-round and it comes pre-portioned, to take guesswork out of serving size. It allows consumers to use seafood more like a pantry item, when you’re ready.” Here, too, in-store demonstrations drive the sale home.

Online education
Company and commodity board websites are proving powerful tools in educating shoppers about healthy eating options.

For example, Del Monte supports educational programs and organizations such as Produce for Kids, Produce for Better Health and United Fresh’s “Salad Bar in Every School” campaign.

Many of the sites have two sections—one for the trade and one for consumers—so everyone gets an
understanding of industry, from nursery to table. For retailers who want to make a trade connection, “Packaging info is there, shipping info and a behind-the-scenes look from a trade aspect,” says Julie Lucido, marketing director of Marketing Plus, based in Clovis, Calif., which created and maintains, the website for Well-Pict Berries.

“We did a major overhaul of the website recently because we got so many emails from customers finding our site on the label and talking to us,” says Lucido. “We wanted to be able to answer questions and provide a better consumer experience.”

Online videos that educate and entertain are springing up on microsites. “We have training videos, including a ‘cook it frozen demo,’ on,” which Andrews calls a cooking school.

And there’s an app for that, too. “After watching, go up in the corner of your iPhone and send a PDF to your email address. Or select a recipe you like, download how to poach and steam, and it creates a shopping list,” he adds.

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