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Falling for Produce

Festive displays, cross-merchandising and in-store promotions can help retailers increase sales of seasonal fruits and vegetables.


With autumn upon us, retailers are getting in the season’s spirit by primping their stores with colorful pumpkins and gourds galore. But there’s more to this time of year than just hay bales, corn stalks and jack-o-lanterns. The arrival of autumn marks a new school year and football kickoff, as well as the start of the holiday season. Retailers can leverage these occasions and create enticing displays, cross-merchandise with other products and offer limited-time promotions to boost sales and margin in the produce department.

After the peak spring and summer seasons, produce sales typically dip in the fall. For instance, orange sales last year were 29 percent lower in October compared to the average week, and strawberries fared even worse at 34 percent lower in the same time frame, according to Nielsen FreshFacts, Total U.S., 2016. “But not all produce goes out of season in the fall,” says Meagan Nelson, associate client director at New York-based Nielsen Fresh.

Several items reach their prime in September and October, she adds, including apples and cactus pears –  with last year’s sales 16 percent and 113 percent higher, respectively, in October compared to the average week – as well as winter squash and turnip greens – with sales 52 percent and 96 percent respectively higher in November compared to the average week. To no surprise, pumpkins outshine the entire category in the fall season; last year’s sales, per Nielsen Fresh Facts, were a whopping 785 percent higher in October compared to the average week.

A Flare for Festivity

Retailers can capitalize on consumers’ pumpkin obsession by featuring a variety of shapes, sizes and colors in eye-catching displays. Arranging pumpkins and seasonal produce among wooden crates, hay bales, acorns and other fall ornamentals helps build shopper excitement and inspire seasonal sales.

While apples, squash and sweet potatoes are obvious contenders, cranberries are another fall-time favorite. “Retailers can display fall produce like fresh cranberries near other seasonal items to maximize sales and profit potential,” says Michelle Hogan, executive director at the Cranberry Marketing Committee, based in Wareham, Mass. “Featuring them in rustic wooden crates connects the fruit with the farms they come from, and placing them near seasonal items, like pumpkins or cornucopia, reinforces cranberries’ place with those holidays.”

These festive displays not only conjure holiday spirit, but they also draw attention to produce that is now back in season. For instance, after a slowdown in the summer months, avocado supplies have increased with a new bloom from Mexico, according to Dianne Le, senior manager, national shopper marketing, Avocados From Mexico (AFM), based in Irving, Texas. And with football tailgating parties in full swing, avocados are back in high demand among consumers. “Fall brings a unique appeal for consumers,” says Le. “Colorful produce, from apples to pumpkins, come into the spotlight for recipes, and specifically avocados for guacamole recipes.”

AFM’s VP of trade and promotion, Maggie Bezart-Hall, suggests retailers utilize large avocado displays in multiple formats and locations throughout the store to present shoppers with a variety of uses. “Dual sizing 48’s and 60’s, or 48’s and a bag avocados, are perfect  ways to offer hungry fans a selection for a variety of uses,” she adds. “Secondary displays near the onions, peppers and lemons/limes help to drive incremental sales for fresh guacamole ingredients.” She also recommends adding an avocado display bin near the fresh-cut area, and pairing with sliced jicama, chips and beer for a complete fiesta display.

Cross-merchandising is key when it comes to seasonal produce. Other items such as cheese, chips and produce dips like caramel can help shoppers envision a total fall occasion. But while displaying cranberries with other ingredients for back-to-school snacks, Halloween treats and Thanksgiving meals can inspire impulse sales, Hogan says, retailers can go even further by offering DIY instruction cards for creating holiday centerpieces with store-bought floral arrangements or glass candle holders.

“Beyond food, fresh cranberries are a decorative secret weapon,” Hogan affirms. “With their bright-hued reds and pearl-like shape, cranberries enhance tablescapes, brighten floral and candle arrangements, and bejewel wreaths and garlands.” To help expand fresh cranberries’ footprint in-store, the Cranberry Marketing Committee has developed a new Fresh Cranberry Sales Kit for retailers to optimize their cranberry marketing approach, as well as a video guide designed to teach shoppers how cranberries can enhance their fall decorations.

Stranger Things

Frieda’s Specialty Produce is embracing this year’s haunted season with its newly-designed “Spooky Foods” display, featuring ghastly ghouls and out-of-this-world creatures. Pairing bizarre-looking tropical fruits and carvings alongside traditional fall pumpkins and squash products, this fun and frightening display was designed to help retailers summon shoppers to the produce department and conjure up healthy Halloween sales.

“Halloween is the perfect time to showcase your tropical fruits and specialty vegetables as shoppers will be looking for unique, spooky items for their Halloween celebrations,” says Alex Jackson Berkley, senior account manager at Frieda’s Specialty Produce, based in Los Alamitos, Calif.

The new “Spooky Foods” display features eerie items like prickly jackfruit, odd-shaped organic finger limes, colored cauliflower and “scary hot” ghost peppers. And for shoppers in search of stranger things, the display highlights its Halloween classics, including Buddha’s hand citron, Kiwano horned melon, pink and pointy dragon fruit, hairy rambutan, rosy red cactus pears and crimson-colored blood oranges.

“Build out your ‘Spooky Foods’ displays with creepy-looking fruits and vegetables on both dry and refrigerated cases, and have fun with it,” adds Jackson. “Why should the center aisles have all the Halloween fun?”

Meijer’s Family Meals Tout Seasonal Produce

With tailgating, holiday parties and back-to-school snack occasions in full swing, demand for produce, convenient packaging and value-added products are more prevalent than ever. “Regardless of the time of the year, convenience and health are two trends that never go out of season,” says Nielsen Fresh’s Nelson. “The produce department has the health factor in spades, but convenience is challenging for many of these fall items, especially hard squash items like winter squash or pumpkins that are very difficult or labor intensive to break down.”

Limited-time promotions can help with this challenge and boost seasonal produce sales. In the spirit of children returning to school, Meijer partnered with Produce for Kids in September to raise funds to bring the Jump with Jill nutrition education program to schools within the Meijer footprint. The campaign, which took place during National Family Meals Month, featured in-store recipe displays encouraging shoppers to purchase fresh produce and share their family meals online using the hashtag #PowerYourFamilyMeal.

“At Meijer, we know Family Meals Month is the perfect opportunity to spread the value of this activity with our shoppers,” said Tina Miller, healthy living advisor at Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Meijer. “We are proud to partner with Produce for Kids on an effort that encourages the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables and supports our local school nutrition efforts through Jump with Jill.”

Meijer’s in-store promotional displays listed all partnering produce companies – including Avocados From Mexico, Dole, Earthbound Farm, Green Giant Fresh, Highline Mushrooms, Marzetti, SUNSET and Stemilt Grower’s Lil Snappers kid-size fruit – and directed shoppers to the Produce for Kids website, which features more than 350 registered dietician-approved recipes, meal-planning tools, grocery store-specific campaign details and healthy tips from real parents.

San Antonio-based tomato grower NatureSweet also collaborates with its retail partners on several consumer promotions throughout the year. This season, the company is partnering with non-profit organization Susan G. Koman for the sixth year in a row. Amongst the bright oranges, reds and yellows of fall produce displays, shoppers can find a pop of pink – NatureSweet’s Cherub Tomatoes will feature pink packaging throughout the month of October to celebrate Breast Cancer Awareness Month. “This year, we will donate $100,000 to Susan G. Komen, regardless of sales,” says Lori Castillo, director at NatureSweet. “Our total donation from 2012 to 2016 was $335,000.”

As the holiday season approaches, the Cranberry Marketing Committee is launching a promotion to attract new consumers to the uses and benefits of cranberries. Inspired by Millennials, the company is launching its third annual Cranberry Friendsgiving Photo Contest on Oct. 16, encouraging consumers to post pictures of their cranberry recipes and décor on social media with the hashtag #FriendsgivingCranberryContest for a chance to win $4,000 in prices.

“Retailers can leverage the contest to increase cranberry sales through on-shelf signage, e-communications, overhead radio, point-of sale signage and demonstrating how store-bought floral arrangements and décor can be enhanced with fresh cranberries,” says Hogan. “Now in its third year, there is tremendous interest in creating décor and cooking with cranberries for Friendsgiving. Promoting the contest to shoppers gives them more reasons – and an incentive – to purchase more cranberries.” 

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