Berry Velocity

easily displaying strawberriesPhoto Courtesy of Well-Pict Berries

Versatility, availability and health benefits make berries an easy sell.

The health benefits of berries have been well established. It also doesn’t hurt their reputation that kids love everything about them: their size, color, shape and sweetness. While many consumers associate berries with the spring and summer months, they can be enjoyed year-round and are the perfect addition to any holiday meal. As ready-to-eat snacks, toppings for cereal, yogurt and ice cream, as a key ingredient to add an extra touch of texture and sweetness to baked goods, berries are always welcome at the table.

While berries may practically sell themselves, maintaining well-stocked displays, using POS materials, ensuring proper handling to prevent bruising, and maintaining the cold chain (including refrigerated displays) help to keep berry sales brisk year-round.

Health Benefits & Promotions

selling berries like strawberries and rasberriesFrom the tiniest sweet blueberry to the largest plump strawberry, berries are packed with antioxidants, which help the body fight disease, reduce inflammation, maintain joint flexibility, and slow age-related memory loss. These health benefits should be stressed in the produce department — especially for kids who are already fans.

“Much of what we do every day is geared toward kids and families,” says Cindy Jewell, vice president of marketing for California Giant Berry Farms based in Watsonville, CA. The Cal Giant berry family includes blackberries, raspberries, strawberries and blueberries.

“We actively support the Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools campaign with our Foundation that serves as the presenting sponsor for the Tour de Fresh by raising funds to support salad bars in schools.”

The Tour de Fresh is a four-day cycling event which raised enough money in 2014 to place 40 salad bars in communities across 11 states. It’s a part of the company’s long-term commitment to promoting good eating habits early and focusing on the health benefits of all fruits and vegetables.

“In the short term,” says Jewell, “we have an active section of our website that we constantly update and share on our other social media channels geared toward getting kids in the kitchen with videos and recipes that are fun to make and to eat. At different times of the year, our kids messaging shifts, like with back-to-school ideas and promotions, and Halloween ‘Scary Berries.’”

Christine Christian, senior vice president of the California Strawberry Commission based in Watsonville, CA, sees value in communicating the health benefits of berries to kids as well. The goal of the commission is to conduct research to support the strawberry industry in the state and to share that information with educators, among others.

“We provide educational materials to teachers, schools and youth organizations upon request. We also participate in community events within our California growing regions, such as the Oxnard Strawberry Festival, where we have a booth with activities for kids and families.”

The U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, based in El Dorado Hills CA, raises awareness about the importance of eating a healthy diet, which includes berries. According to executive director Mark Villata, “As obesity rates rise and more attention is drawn to the importance of healthy eating, more

Cal Giant Display

Photo Courtesy of California Giant Berry Farms

Americans know they need to make healthier choices, but they keep tripping up when it comes to sticking with those decisions. One way the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council helps to bridge the awareness-to-action gap is by reminding parents, kids and school nutrition managers that little changes, like choosing blueberries over a breakfast pastry, can set the stage for a healthier way of life in the long run.”

Villata says the philosophy behind educating young people about the nutritional value of berries will help ensure inclusion on their parents’ grocery lists as well as in their school cafeterias.

“Today’s consumers are increasingly trending toward healthier foods,” acknowledges Jim Grabowski, director of marketing for Well-Pict Berries based in Watsonville, CA. “So many are already looking for nutritious options when they go to the store. With their delicious flavor and high nutrition, strawberries and raspberries can be an easy sell with just a little merchandising. As consumers now receive information from many sources, the message of the benefits of berries can be communicated not only through in-store displays and traditional media, but also by retailer websites, social media, and anywhere that the potential buyer may be looking for product information.”

Holidays & Special Meal Occassions

In addition to the everyday benefits consumers gain from adding berries to their shopping lists, special occasions also provide opportunities for promotions. “Occasions and holidays are always an opportunity to fit berries into the mix since they are available on a year-round basis,” says Jewel. “We are taking a hard look at how we can adapt many of our existing recipes and develop new recipes that fit into some of the trends consumers are following now, such as Paleo and gluten-free [diets].”

According to Grabowski, “Any event or holiday is a great time to promote berries. Now that berries are readily available 12 months of the year. With shoppers thinking about berries for brunch, weddings, picnicking and even gift-giving, strawberries are actually gaining in popularity over flowers when people consider gifts for spring events, such as Mother’s Day.”

“I would encourage produce managers to keep the message interesting and relevant to the consumer,” says Kyla Oberman, director of marketing for Naturipe Farms based in Salinas, CA. Oberman recommends holiday promotions as an effective way to promote berries. “For Easter, we find consumers are looking for brunch and dessert recipes. Creative usage ideas are also a big hit. Our Naturipe’s Pinterest page if full of innovative ideas that consumers are craving.”

“Berries should be promoted regardless of meal occasion or time of the year, and as a way of conscious nutrition.”

— Manuela Leyba, Argentinean Blueberry Committee

Manuela Leyba, of the Buenos Aires-based Argentinean Blueberry Committee, says retailers should take advantage of the year-round availability of blueberries and not limit promotions to any one season. “I don’t think berry’s consumption rate is affected by climate as you see with citrus,” says Leyba. “Berries should be promoted regardless of meal occasion or time of the year, and as a way of conscious nutrition.” Inés Pelaez, manager of the Argentinean Blueberry Committee, works to make sure the availability of blueberries is well known in the U.S. “Argentina, as a country itself, started with several campaigns aiming to highlight Argentinean blueberries’ quality because of its climate, soils and access to water, in addition to the fact that we have very early blueberries — since our season starts some weeks (or months) before other South American countries. Our promotional actions included a graphic campaign at the beginning of the season, oriented to the U.S. market.”

Follow the Trends

Trends in berry consumption can mirror shifts similar to other commodities, for example a continued interest in organics. Demand for organic produce has also affected the way retailers are merchandising berries.

According to Gary Wishnatzki, chief executive of Wish Farms based in Plant City, FL, “In addition to consumer demand for healthier products, organics in particular, the other trend that we’re seeing with retailers that are driving the higher demand for organics is the way organics are being merchandised alongside conventionals. We see this happen when retailers shift merchandising from organics of all types in a special section to mixing organics throughout the department; the movement on the organics has picked up.” Wishnatski has seen retailers that took this step toward integration create a lot more demand and sales of organics.

While organics sales continue to trend upward, certain berry varieties are also enjoying increased popularity. “I think the most significant change in berries is the growth and change in blackberry varieties,” notes Jewell. “Today’s California-Giant grown blackberry is larger with the perfect combination of tart and sweet, really boosting this berry variety with shoppers and with the foodservice industry as they add more blackberries to their menu offerings.”

Jewell acknowledges the increased focus on blackberries in supermarkets can be attributed to the rise of their use in foodservice. “Typically when foodservice promotes specific products, you see an uptick in shopping behavior since research shows most new food trends begin in restaurants first with trial before consumers try it at home.”

“Because consumer consumption rates have increased, we’re working with retailers to move to larger pack sizes,” says Frances Dillard, director of marketing for Driscoll’s, Watsonville, CA. “IRI data indicates that the berry category remains, by far, the most important category in produce,” says Dillard. “Fresh berries have driven the growth of the produce category for more than five years. Year-round berry availability has expanded the types of consumption opportunities beyond just fresh snacking. In fact, we are finding that even fourth quarter holiday sales are very much in demand for special occasions.”

Point of Sale Opportunities

Produce executives have a number of resources available from growers and organizations that promote berries. “We help our retail partners by providing their shoppers with recipes, contests, care and handling information, and ways shoppers can use berries with other produce items — as we hope to increase overall consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables,” says Jewell. When consumers buy more berries, it’s a win-win situation. Healthier eating for families and increased sales benefits all parties. “Ideally, we would like to help today’s families eat less processed foods and more fresh. Much of our communication is about how to add flavor, color and variety to menus with fresh first by partnering with other produce brands to broaden our reach and impact,” adds Jewell.

Sue Harrell, director of marketing for the Florida Strawberry Growers Association based in Plant City, FL finds allies in other state programs and agencies to help promote their fruit. “This season, we partnered with the Fresh from Florida campaign. More of our shippers are using the Fresh from Florida logo on their packaging. Consumers can identify items as a Florida product. They know it’s the freshest and their local supplier of fresh berries in the winter months.” Harrell adds, this labeling also satisfies another desire of today’s shoppers who want to know where their produce is grown.

Berries are a perfect ready-to-eat food that are good for people on the go as Oberman at Naturipe Farms attests, “People love blueberries; they sometimes love convenience even more. Our ready-to-eat, fresh blueberry snack packs are a welcome fresh fruit, healthy snack that is great while on the go or to improve an existing meal, such as oatmeal or a salad. Berries absolutely appeal to the impulse buyer. The color and aroma of delicious berries are often enough to put the clamshells in your cart. Purchase intent increases more when displayed with complementary products, recipe cards and usage ideas promoted through POS.”

Maintaining the Cold Chain

Berries have a high perishability rate, so maintaining the cold chain is critical for maximizing profits. Any break in the chain, and berries start to break down quickly.

selling berries with shortbread shellsA retailer’s best efforts to display and merchandise the fruit may be in vain if this is overlooked. As Grabowski at Well-Pict states, “The top consideration to ensuring the best berries and longest shelf life is to maintain the cold chain. Upon receiving a shipment of berries, it is key the retailer puts them directly into cold storage in the backroom and continues to maintain temperature at 33 degrees. Any break in the cold chain drastically reduces the shelf life and salability of the berry.”

Jim Weber, produce director for Tadych’s Econo Foods headquartered in Brillion, WI, stresses the importance of maintaining the cold chain. “We try to have blueberries and raspberries on sale once a month and strawberries on sale once a month,” says Weber. “In March and April, we run truckload sales where we sell the heck out of them.”

Even large volume sales require the cold chain to be kept in tact. “You would really have to be a very busy place in a big city to have them unrefrigerated out there. They die too quick, plus they come a couple thousand miles away, so you have to turn them very quick.”

Dillard from Driscoll’s says as part of cold chain support, the company developed a closed-loop feedback system referred to as “‘The Delight Platform,’ which provides us visibility to see how our berries get to the retailer. We use this information to continually improve two key drivers of the platform: age and temperature.”

Merchandising & Display

The versatility of berries as toppings and recipe ingredients provides retailers with abundant opportunities for cross-merchandising.

Weber recommends cross-merchandising berries in the produce department with baked goods. “Angel food cakes, shortcakes, whipped topping, Reddi-Wip, especially when they’re on sale, you want to have all these different items in there from other departments. We put blueberry glaze by the blueberries, strawberry glaze by the strawberries, there is a sugar-free strawberry glaze also; everything to give customers ideas on what to do with the berries other than just eating them.”

For Jewell, the best way to maximize sales is by featuring all berry types together in one large display. “This practice allows the shopper more choices and adds to impulse sales while allowing the retailer the flexibility to maintain one specific destination for all their fresh berries. Depending on supply and ad features, they can adjust berry allocation within the display without changing overall size.”

Produce executives who know their customers’ buying habits will have an advantage in merchandising their fruit, and keeping a close eye on displays is highly beneficial as well.

“I think retailers know their customer base and try to maintain displays effectively based on whether or not they are a feature item within the department,” says Jewell. “Diligence is definitely necessary in maintaining displays regardless of the size to ensure proper rotation and eliminating any product that is overripe or decaying. Shoppers buy with their eyes first, so an attractive display will draw them in and get the berries into the shopping cart, whereas a poorly stocked display or marginal product will lose the sale.”

Villata of the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council has seen retailers use refrigerated display cases effectively in their stores. “In recent years, Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club, Ahold, Wegmans, Safeway and a number of other smaller retailers added rolling refrigerated cases as secondary displays for berries, which increased space allocation,” says Villata. “The trend among those looking to capture additional sales has been toward adding refrigerated displays both inside the produce department and in other sections of the store to take advantage of cross-merchandising opportunities.” Villata has also seen retailers have success incorporating existing tools, such as in-store signage, social media channels and e-newsletters to remind customers of the health halo berries wear so well.

Give Them Space

Given the popularity of berries, the question becomes: are retailers devoting enough space to them in produce departments?

“When measuring sales per square foot, berries as an entire category tend to be under-allocated on space at retail,” says Villata. “On the plus side, this means berry displays are constantly refreshed and often receive attention from store employees throughout the day. Conversely, it means that berry displays may not catch as many eyes and attract as many shoppers as they could if they were more expansive.”

Grabowski at Well-Pict Berries says consistency and prominent placement will help berries reach baskets. “The best presentation for merchandising berries is a prominent front display zone, with a consistently full display. You want to avoid that picked-over look, and you want to put out a full variety of package sizes, strawberries and raspberries, conventional and organic. Then you have a destination berry category in your store that can drive a lot of impulse buys.”