Florida produce brings the taste of spring to a winter-weary shopper.
Originally printed in the March 2022 issue of Produce Business.
Even if it’s still a bit of a dream in a lot of the United States, spring is stirring and Florida is ready to strike the first blow to chilly winter as Sunshine State produce starts flowing.
The start of the season is an opportunity for produce departments to shake up their assortment and get consumers thinking about seasonal fruits and vegetables. Spring Florida produce promotions have been a tradition with many East Coast retailers, but, given how the supply has developed over the years, the Sunshine State crop could be an opportunity just about anywhere. The response to a new crop of U.S.-grown fruits and vegetables is likely to be enthusiastic, if given the correct support.
For many East Coast retailers, the shipment of the Florida crop is an opportunity to embrace, but for some in other parts of the country, it still is a lesser consideration, however, it doesn’t have to be that way. Frank Lueptow of Frank’s Piggly Wiggly, Elkhorn, WI, says that he hasn’t done much in the way of Florida promotions in the past, but that doesn’t mean he’s averse. Now, as he’s working with a new produce supplier, “that may change.”
For his part, Mike Servello, chief executive of Bargain Grocery, started buying from growers even as the harvest broke in Florida because he wants to get the high-quality fresh fruits and vegetables to his still winter-bound customers in Utica, NY.
“I’m loading organic eggplant, green and yellow squash, mixed peppers and tomatoes,” he says. “The growers and packers here have been great to us.”
When the Florida produce arrives, Bargain Grocery will be ready to produce its prime promotional vehicles, a social media video presentation of what’s new and inviting. Social media, particularly Facebook, are vital to Bargain Grocery’s marketing strategy. Servello knows that a look at the fresh produce he’s shipping up from Florida will drive shoppers to the store.
HELP FOR RETAILERS
Retailers can get a jump on spring by promoting Florida produce, and they can get lots of help as well.
Donna Watson, industry communications manager with the Division of Marketing and Development, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS), Tallahassee, FL, says retailers should consider how they can take advantage of the Florida crop at a time of year when lots of consumers are yearning for a taste of spring. Florida pretty much has something, or a few somethings, for everyone.
“Traditionally, retailers want to display produce that is fresh and in peak season,” she says. “Florida produces more than 300 commodities, with a wide variety of fruits and vegetables available in the springtime, so retailers can fill their produce section and displays with Fresh From Florida products.”
Chuck Weisinger, founder of Weis-Buy Farms, Fort Myers, FL, says, “The flavor is in the product and the produce is ready to pick.”
He says this year’s Florida crop has been particularly good, with little concern about cold weather effects, and is excellent in color, quality and flavor.
“The weather has been ideal to grow the product, and it’s as good as I’ve seen in a while, tomatoes especially,” he says.
Michael Peace, sales manager at Pexco Produce Sales, Pompano Beach, FL, says Florida provides freshness consumers want at a time of year when it’s particularly refreshing.
“Springtime, Florida produce is picked, packed and shipped out to the retail distributor usually the day of harvest, and so ensures the most ‘garden-fresh’ shopping experience at the supermarket,” Peace says.
Florida is prepared not only to ship the crop, but to support sales wherever that crop arrives.
“Retailers interested in promoting Florida’s spring produce through circular ads, in-store displays, recipe cards or social media campaigns should contact the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Division of Marketing and Development. We partner with retailers to source Florida products during peak flavor and freshness and tailor promotions to feature Florida produce, engage shoppers and increase sales,” Watson says.
Peace says retailers who have made a point of selling locally sourced produce have demonstrated that where fruits and vegetables are grown means something to consumers. Promoting Florida produce when nothing local is ready to harvest can excite the same interest consumers have about where their food is grown and associated qualities of places such as the Sunshine State.
Pexco offers cucumbers, green and yellow squash, green and other colors of bell peppers, okra and corn and now offers value-added items in overwrapped trays and high-graphic handle bags that appeal to consumers.
Peace says consumers just need a little push to buy Florida produce.
“By promoting Fresh from Florida with signage at shelf level and printed ads, increases in consumption of the product have been proven,” Peace says, “especially if retailers take advantage of high-production periods to sell.”
Retailers ready to jump on the Florida deal have a nice array of choices, as Watson emphasizes.
“Florida tomatoes, blueberries, sweet corn, bell peppers, green beans, leafy greens, and watermelon are in peak season in the spring,” she says.
Watson suggests a great way to feature Florida produce is through holiday-themed promotions. For example, Florida blueberries are in peak season April through mid-May and National Blueberry Pie Day is April 28, so retailers could cross-merchandise Florida blueberries alongside pie crusts. Similarly, Florida sweet corn is in peak season April and May, during Cinco de Mayo. Florida watermelon is abundant during May and June, perfectly timed to be featured for Memorial Day celebrations, she adds.
GROWN IN THE U.S.
Because of the wide variety of fruits and vegetables available from Florida in spring, retailers can balance their promotions by local preference and by providing information about the crop itself. A merchandising statement about fresh domestic produce is bound to generate interest among consumers, Watson says.
“When considering the distance traveled, Northeast retailers might be more likely to put highly perishable items on ad to help them move quicker,” she says. “In general, Florida produce is handled and promoted very similarly across the Eastern U.S. market.”
Morgan Stuckert, marketing manager of Lipman Family Farms, Immokalee, FL, says retailers should emphasize the source and relevant information because consumers have been taking more interest in cooking, which relates back to sheltering at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“With consumers eating fresh vegetables now more than ever, it’s the perfect time to highlight spring produce on the shelves to help drive sales and foot traffic in the produce section,” she says. “Promote in-season by cross-merchandising with other in-season commodities to create fresh recipes, attention-grabbing local displays, and strategic signage to catch consumers’ eyes and hold their attention longer as they shop.”
To drive volume, getting as much attention as possible to fresh Florida vegetables ensures demand and sell through, Watson says. “During the spring season when Florida produce is plentiful, retailers can put as many Florida products as possible on ad,” she says. “In-store signage and displays are also great ways to showcase Florida produce.”
Weis-Buy Farms’ Weisinger says freshness is critical to catching the consumer’s attention and is something retailers should emphasize.
“We’re coming into the optimum season,” he says. “It’s been a bad winter for a lot of people for a lot of reasons. This is the point when people are ready to get out, do a little healthful exercise and want a nice fresh salad.”
Beyond that, he notes, grilling promotions with Florida produce should commence almost as soon as product hits the stores.
In the produce department, catching consumer attention is key, but playing up the growing region can be helpful, given all the positive associations Florida maintains.
“Colorful, attractive signage plays a significant role in assisting consumers in their purchasing decisions. Fresh From Florida branded signage indicates to consumers that the product they’re purchasing is grown and sourced from the Sunshine State,” Watson says.
Display activations at retail partner locations include Fresh From Florida branded bins, shelf talkers and recipe cards, all available from the FDACS. “In-store signage and displays not only improve consumers’ shopping experience, but stimulate impulse buys as well,” Watson adds. “When surveyed on advertising awareness, consumers were most likely to recall seeing ads on in-store signage compared to other forms of advertising.”
Lipman Family Farms is among the Florida suppliers that is making an effort to aid retailers in their merchandising and promotional efforts.
“With Lipman’s support, incorporating strategic point-of-sale materials can help boost overall awareness for in-season produce,” Stuckert says. “We take pride in providing strategic signage to educate consumers on their local farmers and products, highlighting our local growers and local association materials to help build brand loyalty.”
Stuckert suggests retailers can also spotlight specific Florida products such as the Crimson tomato, “which has proven to be a successful Florida winter crop over the last 10 years with continuous improvements to the variety based on projected consumer preferences.”
Watson says retailers should pull out the digital stops, as well.
“Digital promotions on retailers’ websites, e-commerce platforms and social media are a useful tool to help grow existing in-store and print ads. With an online presence, retailers can share visually engaging content directly with the target market,” she says.
Spring, amid all the excitement of fresh produce arriving from the region, can be the time to prompt trial of the newest Florida bounty.
“Florida pineberries were new to retailers this season,” Watson says. “In peak season December through February, their unique taste and color were ideal for promoting during special occasions like Valentine’s Day.”