Elevating apricots and other dried fruit to the coveted eye-level space isn’t always possible, but it’s a challenge that can be overcome with a range of tactics.
Originally printed in the July 2021 issue of Produce Business.
Easily portable, nutritious, and packing a flavor punch. What’s not to like about dried apricots? But it took a rush to fill pantries with foods that carry a long shelf life in 2020 that gave dried apricots the respect they deserve. Overall, dried fruit ecommerce share rose 8.6% in 2020, according to research from IRI, and dried apricots were along for the ride.
Retailers have taken note of the uptick. John Savidan, senior director produce and floral for Gelson’s Markets, headquartered in Encino, CA, and including 27 stores throughout Southern California, says that dried apricot sales, “Definitely spiked since the pandemic and have held their ground week in and week out. With more customers focused on health and immunity, it really makes dried apricots a great item to add to your healthy lifestyle.”
Growers concur. “Over the past year, we have seen the importance of the dried fruit segment,” says Stephanie Harralson, director of marketing, North America, for Sunsweet Growers, headquartered in Yuba City, CA, and representing nearly 200 prune grower-members throughout the state. “Consumers are looking for products that have a good shelf life, that provide nutrition, and are portable, so there’s growing interest in the nutrition, flavor and convenience provided by dried fruit.”
DISCOVER THE APRICOT SHOPPER
So who, exactly, are those dried fruit consumers? Specifically, who buys dried apricots? Here, the growers’ and the retailers’ perspectives again are pretty much aligned.
Sunsweet Growers’ Harralson describes typical dried apricot consumers as “women shoppers, families interested in healthy eating, people who are nutrition thinkers, and healthy on-the-go consumers.”
Savidan describes shoppers buying dried apricots at Gelson’s Markets as “the health-conscious consumer who mostly follows a stricter diet and who’s looking for that healthy snack option. The second tier would be folks who love fresh apricots and cannot get them, thus switching to the dried offering.”
MEET THE DRIED FRUIT CHALLENGE
Despite the consumer recent rush to dried fruit, including apricots, there can be some in-store challenges, particularly in terms of visibility when retailers relegate dried fruit to lower shelves or other hard-to-find spots. Elevating apricots and other dried fruit to the coveted eye-level space isn’t always possible, but it’s a challenge that can be overcome with a range of tactics.
Seasonal cross-promotions tagged to the holidays bring attention to dried fruit, including apricots. “Retailers often cross-promote apricots with almonds or walnuts, especially during the holiday season when these items are purchased together. Whether for recipes or entertaining, consumers like to have a range of dried fruits for the holidays,” says Sunsweet’s Harralson.
At Midwest-based B&R Produce stores, dried cranberries are the top dried fruit seller, followed by dried apricots, and that’s “primarily because of seasonal deal opportunities,” says Randy Bohaty, director of produce for B&R Produce, Inc.
Apricots are “not a fast-mover, so typically they’re on a shelf with other dried fruit,” he adds. “The only time they get heightened visibility is when we have TPR deals (temporary price reduction) around shippers that typically have some selling POS with them. These get higher traffic placement because they’re designed for in-and-out impulse sales.”
Headquartered in Lincoln, NE, B&R Produce comprises more than 20 stores in Iowa and Nebraska under several banners, including Russ’s Market, Super Saver, Apple Market, and Allen’s.
Regional differences in shopper preferences may come into play. At Gelson’s Markets in California, there are no issues at all when it comes to selling dried apricots. “Dried apricots are a best-selling item within the category,” says Savidan. “We rely on our own brand and consistent placement when merchandising. We sell them (dried apricots) well enough that we really don’t need to give them extra space. Customers always know where to find them.”
While nutritional benefits, convenience and flavor are key selling points for dried apricots, the importance of providing consumers with a quality product shouldn’t be overlooked.
Savidan says the most successful marketing tactic for Gelson’s Markets is the “top notch” quality of its own brand, coupled with well-merchandised display.
He describes Gelson’s Markets customers as “Very well educated and affluent and accustomed to the very best….Our consumers are focused on quality, and we have an outstanding private label dried fruit and nut program.”
Dried apricots are merchandised with all Gelson’s other private label items, which creates a destination point for shoppers. “Folks always know where to find them (dried apricots),” says Savidan.
The emphasis on quality goes directly to Gelson’s suppliers. “The only support we ask for in regards to our dried fruit program from our supplier is quality,” says Savidan.
Apricots from Sunsweet Growers are imported from Turkey, and the company maintains stringent quality controls for the dried fruit that includes in-person inspections. Quality measures include moisture, appearance, texture, and consistent size.
“We stand by our quality,” says Harralson. “We have stringent quality control, and we work directly with the growers in Turkey to make sure we have a good product.”
EXTEND YOUR MARKETING REACH
Sunsweet enjoys high brand awareness among consumers, with 85% of consumers saying that Sunsweet is a “known brand,” according to a 2020 Collage Group Study. But the shopper’s journey to the dried apricot in the produce aisle can follow a number of paths and an array of guides. For Sunsweet, those guides range from registered dietitians to social media influencers.
While prunes are the focus of traditional national newspapers and television advertising for the company, Harralson says in regional markets registered dietitians have a place in the mix.
“We provide information to registered dietitians in the local markets. Retailers often have their own registered dietitian on staff and sometimes we provide samples and brochures to them for education purposes.”
Sunsweet also participates in the Food and Nutrition Conference & Expo, the professional conference for registered dietitians sponsored by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
When it comes to social media influencers, the company has been working with them for more than 10 years, usually with influencers who are nutrition experts. “We have seen positive results with their ability to communicate with their own audiences about health and nutrition,” says Harralson.
When it comes to promoting the full range of Sunsweet Growers products, including dried apricots, social media that includes Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram comes to the fore.
Harralson: “We do a lot on social media to drive people to our website,” she adds. There consumers can find dozens of “feel good food” recipes and recently included an apricot and cherry trail mix.
GRAB ON TO AN UPWARD TREND
The US dried fruit market was $10.43B in 2020 and is projected to reach $15B by 2027, according to a February 2021 report from Research and Markets (“United States Dry Fruit Market, Volume, By Type, Production, Imports, Exports, Bearing Acreage, Company Analysis and Forecast”).
As dried apricots continue to gain favor among consumers looking for a healthy snack, growth projections favor growers who grow them and retailers who stock—and promote—them.