A produce resolution

Sharing nutritional information and reminding consumers of good eating habits can help shoppers stick to their New Year’s resolutions—and keep sales up.

Losing weight and getting in shape are two of the most common New Year’s resolutions. People empty their refrigerators of eggnog and sugary treats, fill it with healthy produce and register for a gym membership in a declaration to change their ways.

Getting in shape and losing weight also rank as two of the most commonly broken resolutions, as people’s good intentions are sidetracked by vacations and hectic schedules. For the produce department this means a short-lived boost in sales during an otherwise sluggish time of year, ending with the question, how can retailers keep produce on trend?

Reminding shoppers about the importance of healthy eating and keeping the nutritional benefits in front of mind is one way, say produce growers.

“Traditionally January is when consumers are most focused on weight management but there are many opportunities for health-focused campaigns throughout the year,” says Bil Goldfield, communications manager for Dole Fresh Fruit. “February is American Heart Month, providing retailers with an opportunity to discuss how diet can lower the risk for heart diseases.

“By addressing different areas of concern, retailers can help customers learn about produce that can benefit them in relation to a particular interest. For example, at Halloween talk about how beta-carotene in pumpkins supports vision and skin health,” he adds.

Using knowledge and findings from the Dole Nutrition Institute (DNI), Dole Fresh Fruit, based in Westlake Village, Calif., works with retailers to target customers with nutritional information. The DNI has published educational materials available for co-branding as well as videos and “message music” with healthy tips that can be played over the store’s  public address system.

One campaign the DNI is currently working with retailers on is expanding the usage of fruits beyond morning and afternoon into dinner entrees, appetizers and drinks. This was the impetus behind the “Go Bananas After Dark,” campaign. In 2012 Dole is expanding on the campaign with 366 Ways to Go Bananas offering ideas for replacing energy bars and drinks with bananas. The “Go Bananas Every Day” campaign will combine new recipes, promotions and partnerships, and Dole will work with retailers to develop specific in-store promotions, POS materials and sampling events.

Offering information goes a long way beyond a consumer’s initial purchase. Many produce growers feel it is their responsibility, as well as that of the retailer, to make healthy food options available. Sherise Jones, marketing director for the Parma, Idaho-based Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion Committee (IEOOC), says it is about creating loyalty. “When retailers promote healthy produce, they are spreading the message that they care about their consumers’ health. That helps build loyalty and brings consumers back in the door.”

Jones advice is to keep nutrition information simple. “Retailers shouldn’t get text heavy, just offer the facts, something the consumer can easily digest while they make their selection and then move on,” she says. “A little sound bite to prompt the retailer to make a purchase, such as ‘did you know onions have as much vitamin C as a medium orange?’”
Something as simple as a single key word can help grab shoppers’ attention. Suzanne Wolter, marketing director for Rainier Fruit Co., based in Selah, Wash., says that according to Nielsen research “items that promoted ‘antioxidants’ saw a 29% dollar sales growth in 2009, while items noting the terms ‘fiber’ and ‘low-glycemic’ saw a 13% and 12% increase, respectively.”

However some retailers may have taken the recent trend towards a simple, clean produce department too far, say industry observers. In an effort to create a “fresh from the farm” image many retailers have moved to hand-written and chalkboard style signs with minimal information. Observers say it would likely be beneficial to find a balance between the two.

Bringing consumers into the produce aisle can often be as easy as a fresh, appealing display of apples. In a recent consumer survey conducted for the U.S. Apple Association, 52% of participants responded that bountiful display bins indicate that the entire produce department is of high quality. Consumers also rated apples as one of the most healthful fruits and perceive bountiful apple bin displays as an effective way to promote the healthfulness of apples and apple products.

“There is a psychological impact,” says Wolter. “Shoppers indicated that the displays impact their shopping trip in many ways. That the apples and produce is high quality and the store has the customers’ health and wellness in mind. It puts them in a ‘buying mood’ and gives them more confidence to buy in the store.”

A slight percentage drop in apple dollar sales contribution to the produce department has resulted in a renewed focus on the apple category. New varieties are being pushed and the fruit has even taken on a lead role in the National Football League’s (NFL) campaign, Fuel Up to Play 60.

Introduced by the NFL and the National Dairy Council, Fuel Up to Play 60 is an in-school program to combat childhood obesity by encouraging kids to eat nutrient-rich foods and play outside for 60 minutes a day. More than 70,000 schools have signed up for the program, which is run by the students and incorporates learning materials about nutrition and healthy food contributions, such as apples.

Chelan Fresh joined the cause and is taking it a step further, bringing it into the retail environment. “We know kids do pretty well when they are at school but when they leave, what do they eat?” says Terry Braithwaite, director of marketing for Chelan, Wash.-based Chelan Fresh. “A lot of times it is out of sight, out of mind. A lot of parents don’t know about the program so there is a disconnect between school and home.”

Chelan Fresh hopes that its presence in grocery stores will bring awareness to parents and influence their shopping decisions. “It helps educate mom and when kids are in the store with her they will see the Play 60 products and recognize it as part of their program.”
The retail program is in pilot stages in a number of retailers, including Winn-Dixie in Florida and Albertsons and Safeway in Washington. Chelan Fresh hopes to roll it out nationally in the fall of 2012, at the kick-off of both school and the football season.

“Here is a program that has a foundation and just needs to be plugged into,” says Braithwaite. “We are riding on the coattails of the NFL and have gotten into 70,000 schools. It’s a program that kids are using and learning from. A percentage of the profits go to GENYOUth Foundation and are being funneled back into the schools.”

For more tips on promoting healthy eating habits in the New Year, click here.

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