Retailers should go big, be authentic in promotions.
Originally printed in the March 2023 issue of Produce Business.
After the Super Bowl, Cinco de Mayo quickly becomes the focus of merchandising for avocados, tomatoes, guacamole and related fixings. But more than a calendar-specific opportunity, the celebration’s increasing popularity with consumers becomes a chance to drive sales of fresh produce and flavors associated with Latin cooking.
No matter the size or location of a retail operation, a Cinco de Mayo promotion can boost sales. Take 3 Guys from Brooklyn, NY, for example. This high-volume fruit and vegetable operation generates big sales from year-end holidays, followed by spikes during the Ramadan/Easter/Passover timeframe. Because the neighborhood is so ethnically diverse, no single occasion that’s celebrated by a particular group generates as much in sales as do those periods when there are more general or overlapping celebrations. That’s why an occasion such as Cinco de Mayo can spark sales in between, says Philip Penta, managing partner.
The operation’s outdoor merchandising, with displays wrapping around the store exterior under extended roofing, doesn’t lend itself to massive displays, but Penta picks spots for those celebrating, whether because of their ethnic background or just because they want to join the party.
“We do avocados and make sections in our refrigerators inside the store,” Penta says, adding the store will also feature the event in mailers and circulars.
EXPAND ONLINE EMPHASIS
Retailers can use Cinco de Mayo as a sales generator between the early spring holidays and Memorial Day — and don’t forget delivery promotions. In 2022, Kroger created a Cinco de Mayo online presentation, including a history of the occasion, and featuring everything from avocado to cilantro to limes to onions. Kroger also offered the ingredients for Mexican street corn and an overview on how to make it.
“We certainly see a shift in the items people purchase, leading up to Cinco de Mayo: it’s the top-performing week for avocados, salsa, queso, tomatoes, etc.,” says Julie Coop, vice president of consumer and brand communications, Shipt, Birmingham, AL.
BOOST YEAR-ROUND SALES
Colorful Cinco de Mayo promotions can set the stage for sales of produce associated with the holiday through the year.
Hass Avocado Board research demonstrates how Cinco de Mayo is gaining as a sales opportunity. Avocado dollar sales during Cinco de Mayo week 2022 hit $62.2 million, up 14.5% from the year before, even though unit sales fell 9.8% to 41.8 million year-over-year after the temporary ban on Mexican fruit shook up the market. So, even though supply chains were upset, consumers still laid down more money for Cinco de Mayo avocados than in 2021.
Stephanie Bazan, senior vice president of commercial strategy and execution at Avocados From Mexico (AFM), Irving, TX, says a study by market researcher Numerator indicated that leading up to Cinco, “shoppers spend almost two times more on groceries when avocados are in the basket.”
These are valuable shoppers, Bazan says, “and retailers should focus on leveraging avocados in their Cinco store thematic destinations that are typically found at the entrance or in the perimeter of the store, as this helps drive larger baskets.”
“The Cinco de Mayo holiday is a precursor to summer, and it’s a big opportunity to merchandise your products to build awareness and gain trial,” emphasizes Tara Murray, vice president of marketing, Fresh Innovations, LLC/Yo Quiero! Brands, Rhome, TX. “This leads to repeat purchases as consumers include you in their consideration set.”
PROMOTE IT EARLY
Retailers that get in on the action early are likely to get a better return. Gina Garven, vice president of customer strategy, Robinson Fresh, Eden Prairie, MN, says it’s best to give consumers some time to get into the Cinco de Mayo spirit — one that can give produce departments a significant boost.
“Pre-holiday promotion and merchandising are both valuable ways to help build hype around Cinco de Mayo,” Garven says. “It’s effective to set up in-store displays and merchandising at least two weeks prior, to remind people of the upcoming holiday and help spur recipe ideas.”
However, fresh produce items may not last for two weeks, so prepare for holiday sales to occur within one week of Cinco de Mayo, Garven advises. “Nationally, produce sales have grown an average of nearly 6% between 2019 and 2022 when comparing the two weeks before and the week including Cinco de Mayo. In the Southeast, due to demographic mix and population growth, this figure was up 8.3%.”
Avocados from Mexico believes that getting the most out of the holiday demands an even earlier break out of the blocks. “We’re encouraging retailers to begin setting displays a month in advance to drive maximum excitement around Cinco,” Bazan says. “Because Cinco de Mayo is the second biggest consumption occasion in the U.S. for avocados and guacamole, we want to remind shoppers to shop avocados from Mexico early. Our program this year launches in-store beginning April 10 to May 7.”
The California Avocado Commission (CAC), Irvine, CA, fits Cinco de Mayo into its broader promotional efforts.
“The commission offers customized support for retailers, which can include programs for Cinco de Mayo for those retailers who want to feature the occasion,” says Jeff Oberman, CAC president.
“Some retailers have had impressive results with California Avocado Commission-sponsored sales and display contests,” Oberman says. “Cross-merchandising with tortilla chips, colorful peppers and chiles, tomatoes, lemons, limes and onions provides consumers with an easy way to stock up on supplies for guacamole-making, taco-topping and more. For those retailers who merchandise bagged California avocados, we encourage including the bags on primary and secondary displays.”
Jay Alley, co-owner and vice president of sales for Fresh Innovations, LLC/Yo Quiero! Brands, says the holiday is custom made for cross-merchandising.
“Consumers are looking for guacamole and other items for Cinco de Mayo, so cross-merchandising with chips, veggies, tortillas and other items create a very festive environment in store,” he says. “When consumers feel good, they want to eat good, so providing promotions and excitement on shelf leads consumers to purchase the right products.”
Choice is important, AMF’s Bazan adds. “It is key to have a good selection of bulk and bag options to maximize sales,” she explains. “Bags are a perfect pick for shoppers who are looking to make guacamole, as it takes several avocados to prepare guacamole and bags represent a convenient solution for Cinco de Mayo events.”
Cinco de Mayo’s timing this year — May 5 falls on a Friday — may generate particularly strong sales results.
Oberman says shopping for the event is likely to occur the weekend prior and the days leading up to May 5, so displays should be placed by April 28 at the latest, and earlier, if possible.
Bazan says Avocados from Mexico is extending the celebration by promoting ‘Cinco de Weekend.’ “It’ll be an exciting, three-day weekend fiesta where shoppers can enter to win 12 weekend getaway trips in a year, with a total value at up to $300,000.” AMF is using QR codes on in-store displays as a sweeps entry vehicle.
GET INTO THE SPIRIT
Because it’s a holiday that’s still relatively new to many Americans, retailers should do whatever they can to encourage a festive spirit to maximize the opportunity Cinco de Mayo offers.
“Cinco de Mayo represents a key opportunity for us to connect with all shoppers to showcase the roots of our brand, the spirit of Mexicanity,” Bazan says. “Our consumer research shows that for many Americans, Cinco de Mayo represents a celebration of good times and Mexican culture that is relevant to both Hispanic and non-Hispanic shoppers.”
Robinson Fresh encourages retailers to recognize merchandising is critical to Cinco de Mayo success, and partners with retailers to “create exciting and vibrant on-site displays,” Garven says. “In my experience, promotions that are supported by holiday marketing boards are commonly backed with secondary display bins. These are generally colorful displays with attractive graphics that capture the consumer’s attention. Going a step further, adding a sign with an attractive retail price, along with ripe-and-ready produce is another key factor for maximizing promotion potential.”
Produce departments can make an even bigger splash through marketing techniques in-store, she adds.
“Digital signage is an effective way to leverage influencers and to showcase recipes to attract shoppers to the display,” Garven says.
She recommends heavy emphasis on the core products, such as avocados, limes and corn. Other related items — onions, peppers, tomatoes and cilantro — see additional sales in the Cinco de Mayo time frame, so it could be a good idea to stock up.
Robinson Fresh has also seen “impressive growth rates” in tropical fruit offerings, such as mangos. “A variety of these offerings would complement a delicious Cinco de Mayo spread.”
MAKE IT EASY FOR SHOPPERS
Crystal Chavez, marketing coordinator, Gold Coast Packing, Santa Maria, CA, says social media can play a big part in effective cilantro marketing for Cinco de Mayo sales. “Consumers get most of their ideas for new recipes or what to cook for special occasions and holidays from social media,” she explains.
Quick recipe videos have become popular on Instagram, Facebook and TikTok, which also includes the entire recipe in comments or with a link to an influencer’s or a blogger’s website. “Including cilantro in recipe videos, posts on social media or in email campaigns helps boost consumption and its addition to a Cinco de Mayo menu.”
Fresh Innovations’ Murray agrees consumers are on their phones constantly. “Store displays drive excitement at the time of purchase, while social and media platforms drive excitement before purchase and encourage consumers to visit their favorite retailers so they can participate in the Cinco de Mayo offers.”
Still, it’s important to consider that a significant proportion of the Cinco de Mayo celebrating public doesn’t prepare guacamole or have time, but still wants it at the center of the table. So, produce sections that don’t have fresh, packaged, ready-to-go guacamole are bound to lose some sales opportunities.
Murray adds Cinco de Mayo is a holiday that brings people together, no matter their heritage. “With Cinco de Mayo being so popular, it’s a good idea to get in front of consumers early.”