Baking, snacking and gifting all celebrate the holiday spirit.
Originally printed in the November 2023 issue of Produce Business.
Dried fruits and nuts nourish the sweet and savory joys of fall and winter events.
Displays of in-shell nut assortments, dramatized by the colors of dried fruits, beckon customers to not only savor the snacks, but also promise the pleasures of the forthcoming holidays.
During this season, more produce departments are accommodating suppliers’ need for space to display their extensive lines of both familiar and exotic dried fruits, plus almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, filberts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pignolias, pistachios and walnuts. Spanish peanuts and marcona almonds are more common now, too.
In-shell nuts play a big part in the festive décor in the produce department in the holiday season, says Douglas Kozlow, senior marketing manager, Diamond Foods, LLC, Stockton, CA.
“Two years ago, we re-did our in-shell point-of-sale bins with nutcrackers in the produce department. It has been received well by buyers. Décor has multiple usages, including sales for arts and crafts.”
Chris Large, sales manager of Torn & Glasser, Los Angeles, CA, says each type of nut has unique characteristics. The company’s 10 types of nuts augment its 30 fruits.
And Large advocates big displays. “Slivers are not very good,” he says, with the adage, “Stack them deep and sell them cheap.”
PEOPLE EAT (AND BUY) WITH THEIR EYES
Tess Mercado, owner-founder of Nutridge Farms, Chino, CA, also recommends retailers take the time to make attractive displays.
“People eat with their eyes,” she says. “Take time to make the products and displays very appealing.”
In a small store, Mercado suggests opting for the endcaps and the tops of rows of shelves because they get noticed quickly, “As soon as people walk in, they see you.”
Bard Valley Natural Delights, Yuma, AZ, ushers medjool dates into holiday inspiration. “Enhancing visibility is crucial for boosting date sales,” says Marketing Director David Baxter. “Our banana table rack is a prime example of how visibility can make a difference. We offer a diverse range of other merchandising displays to choose from, ensuring retailers can find the best fit for their stores.”
Baxter continues, “Our strategies extend beyond visibility, with options such as cross-promotions and in-store sampling demos. These tactics create added value and engagement, driving interest and sales for our date products.”
Jennifer Olmstead, senior director of U.S. marketing and communications, California Walnut Board, Folsom, CA, says the holiday season and walnuts go hand-in-hand, “especially with the classic symbol of the nutcracker during the Christmas season.”
“The mild nutty flavor and satisfying crunch of walnuts adds to the enjoyment of holiday favorites — from baked goods and do-it-yourself gifts to seasonal appetizers, stuffings and salads.”
Uvaldo Non, produce manager for Andy’s Local Market, San Rafael, CA, says, “At the holiday time, we display almonds, cashews, chestnuts, pecans, pistachios — all in the produce department. Customers ask for them.”
Brandon Wielgosiek, assistant produce manager at the Cleveland, OH, Heinen’s store, reports their fall theme began in early October. “We have a giant selection of dried fruits and nuts now. We call our display ‘Hickory Harvest,’ and it ties in with what’s on sale.”
He says they are passionate about displays. “If it is not a good display, sales will not be good. Merchandising is the key to events.”
Wielgosiek says Heinen’s, which has 26 stores in Ohio and Illinois, has won awards that he attributes to their quality. “We only put out what’s best. We select produce carefully, and if not acceptable, it goes back.”
Heinen’s fall and winter promotions extend to their own developed snacks. Wielgosiek says their dried raspberry, cranberry and cashew mix resembles the iconic peanut butter and jelly flavor.
SHARE THE SPIRIT WITH GIFTS
When it comes to gifting, Bard Valley Natural Delights provides a range of date options that cater to various occasions and preferences, says Bridgette Weber, trade marketing manager.
“Dates make a great addition to any gift basket, charcuterie board, or as an addition to a sharable recipe to take to a holiday party.”
“Our truffles are the ideal sweet treat, perfect for sharing on any celebration, adding a touch of indulgence to the moment,” she says. “Our pitted dates and new Tajin seasoned date strips also make great gifts for those looking for something new and delicious.”
“Like all gifts,” adds Weber, “it comes down to the package and generating some excitement. To serve this, we have our eye-catching window gift box options that retailers bring in for certain holidays.”
Mercado of Nutridge Farms also highlights products in packaging with a clear window, “so the quality can actually be seen inside.”
People love gift baskets, she adds, and suggests assembling products into attractive containers with shredded paper. Nutridge Farms’ flip-top bottle with fiesta peanuts is often used for gifts. “It can be enjoyed while driving with no spillage, and fits in car cup holders,” says Mercado.
CREATIVE SNACKS SPUR DEMAND
“Lower sugar and salt alternatives, plus additional spices, can also draw customers,” says John Dannemiller, president of family-owned C. J. Dannemiller Co., in Norton, OH.
The company’s newest snacking blend is a smoky, sweet, heat mix combination with smokehouse almonds, sriracha and coffee peanuts. White chocolate cashews, lemon crème almonds, and honey-roasted cinnamon-coated pecans are among the 10 features. Organic nuts include pecan halves, whole almonds and cashews and shelled pumpkin seeds. Holiday peanut brittle calls for their Spanish peanuts.
In devising ways to promote sales, Dannemiller advises retailers use social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and TikTok, and post several days a week. “Also, find ways to attract attention in ads with direct mail, coupons and displays.”
Kozlow of Diamond Foods adds associating snacks with sports can create opportunities. The synergy between the health benefits of nuts, particularly the omega 3 of walnuts can aid promotions that stress consumption for assisting performance and post-recovery.
“Sampling events with team partnerships and coupons aid in retaining sales,” says Koslow.
Diamond Foods heralds fall with pumpkin pie spice snack walnuts and pecan pie snack pecans. Koslow also explains its Hot Honey snacking mix is “the right level — not too hot, and the slight kick is easy to revisit. The honey counteracts the heat.”
Along with its beet, carrot, green bean, banana and plantain chips packaged snacks, Nutridge Farms’ latest trail mix combines pineapple, roasted marcona almonds, papaya, coconut, banana chips and pepitas.
“Our vegan and gluten-free date nuts made with date sugar, plus pumpkin spice pecans and walnuts highlight the season,” says Mercado.
Natural Delights’ latest product, Medjool Date Strips, aligns with current consumer trends, according to Weber. “It combines the sweetness of medjool dates with the bold and tasty kick of Tajin Chili Lime seasoning, catering to the growing appetite for diverse flavors and health-conscious snacking preferences.”
“To educate consumers about dates, we use a multi-channel approach, engaging social media, in-store displays with recipe inspiration, online resources, and collaborations with expert chefs and dietitians,” says Weber. “Sampling is also key — it introduces our product and encourages trial by those who are new to medjool dates.”
TRADITIONAL HOLIDAY BAKING
A wealth of cookbooks, recipe collections, and articles focus on holiday baking. Whether consumers rely on relatives’ treasured, decades-old recipes or invent their own holiday masterpieces, suppliers today can bring rewards.
“In November, retailers often transition toward holiday baking with the middle of aisles displaying baking ingredients, including nuts and dried fruits,” Kozlow observes.
Recalling the surging of brownies and banana breads during the pandemic, Kozlow notes, “Many people became comfortable learning to bake, particularly those younger who were not in school.”
Diamond Foods’ ready-to-use pecan or walnut pie crusts, its pecan/walnut blended pumpkin pie spice pie crust, or its chocolate pecan/walnut blend version can impart convenience during the busy holiday season.
Olmstead suggests recipe selections on the California Walnut Board website for both baking and ways to add nuts to educate consumers on enriching variety as well as additional health benefits for dishes.
“Chicken breast or fresh fish coated with chopped nuts rather than breadcrumbs adds crunch without either oil or an egg wash,” says Kozlow.
Bard Valley Natural Delights’ Weber says holidays are “a key season for us, so we share holiday-inspired date recipes to inspire culinary creativity, and we host online giveaway contests with holiday-themed prizes that boost engagement that we are now pairing with in-store executions through our Holiday Shipper program.”