Originally printed in the February 2020 issue of Produce Business.
Retailers should stick to the basics, but also infuse creativity in the mix.
Packaged nuts are a strong item in any produce department, but they won’t sell themselves.
Retailers need to cover the basics — from top-quality shelled or unshelled product and popular pricing — to eye-catching merchandising, information that stresses health benefits, recipes, links to current marketing campaigns and more.
Geopolitics has also played a role in the packaged-nut segment, as 2019 saw Chinese retaliatory tariffs and trade barriers on pecans hurt suppliers in at least 15 pecan producing states. To help, the Trump Administration and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue made possible a $16 billion relief package.
“The Texas pecan industry has faced tough circumstances since the Chinese retaliatory tariffs have been put in place,” says Lalo Medina, president of the Texas Pecan Growers Association. “The relief package, particularly the release of funds through the Market Facilitation Program, will give pecan producers some much-needed assistance. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but we know this is a great first step toward providing relief to pecan growers.”
That said, it is within the produce department that retailers can overcome international trade pressures and interact directly with their consumers. Here are some ways to do it most effectively:
Merchandising: The most essential element in a produce department, since the eye appeal of product remains paramount.
“We have found the best way to merchandise nuts in produce is in a shipper,” says Will McGehee, a partner along with Kent Hoots and Duke Lane III in the Genuine Georgia Group (GGG), marketers of peaches and pecan in Fort Valley, GA. “Shippers allow the merchandisers to position the product in high-traffic locations and encourage impulse purchases. This strategy is great for in-and-out promotions.”
Another great way GGG executives have found to merchandise is within the bulk displays of complementary produce items such as sweet potatoes in November (for Thanksgiving) and March (for Easter); peaches in June/July; citrus in December, January and February. “Locate your largest display of bulk fruit and sprinkle bags within that display,” advises McGehee.
To maximize merchandising, explains Adam Cooper, senior vice president of marketing at The Wonderful Company, LLC based in Los Angeles, “we provide our Wonderful Pistachios retail customers with high-graphic Wonderful Pistachios POS materials, including bin bases, posters and balloons, allowing retailers to showcase eye-catching displays throughout the produce department and other areas of the store.”
Cooper says his company has found over the years that the most impact is with multiple points of interruption, both in produce and in other high-traffic areas like the lobby and checkout areas. Wonderful Pistachios also unveiled bright yellow and red packaging of its new Wonderful Pistachios No Shells flavors early last year. The all-new bright packaging “brings more awareness to the brand and differentiates the product from Wonderful Pistachios In-Shell varieties,” notes Cooper.
Major Wonderful Pistachio bin displays are proven to have more than two times the lift in sales velocity than when bins aren’t on display, according to Cooper. “For holiday this past year (2019), Wonderful Pistachios displayed bright eye-grabbing red and green holiday elf bins at stores throughout the country.”
Signage: Eye-catching signage that helps to educate the consumer is “key” for carrying the health-related message, says McGehee. Such messages as Excellent Source Of Protein, Lowest In Net Carbs and Energy-Packed Without Sugar will get shoppers’ attention and boost sales, especially impulse and repeat business. American shoppers are also trending toward less processed products and cleaner ingredients, says McGehee. That means signage informing consumers that nuts are non-GMO with no artificial ingredients will resonate, resulting in impulse sales, especially if merchandised within or on plain wooden crates.
Unique signage can almost always help to move more product. Says Cooper, “People buy pistachios for different reasons, from holiday gatherings, parties and watching sports to health reasons, cooking and for everyday snacking. This is why we provide a myriad of displays that address the various needs shoppers have top-of-mind as they navigate the aisles. These displays are excellent reminders of advertising they would have seen before their shopping trip.”
Packaging: According to Cooper and his colleagues at The Wonderful Co., stand-up packaging “enables us to reach new locations and new consumers that we wouldn’t reach otherwise. Because it stands on its own, the stand-up bag can be placed on shelves throughout the store and in areas where bin use is limited or not allowed.” He says it provides “a clean, easily merchandized shelf.”
Pricing: Various pricing and sales strategies can prove to be effective depending on the retailer, notes Cooper. “Yet one thing we know is that there are significant synergies when there is alignment across initiatives.”
For example, during the football season — and especially during the playoffs — Wonderful offers what Cooper labels “significant” national advertising that keeps pistachios top of mind for sports snacking. “Having the right price, with a feature and a display, has a multiplier effect on sales that simply cannot be achieved otherwise.”
Education: Consumers love reading research findings, especially when it comes to health. For example, the results of a long-term observational study published in the online journal BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health released just a few months ago indicate eating a handful of almonds, walnuts, peanuts or any type of nut on a regular basis may help prevent excessive weight gain and even lower the risk of obesity. In addition, a recent study published in Molecular Nutrition & Food Research and funded by the Reus-Spain based International Nut & Dried Fruit Council, showed a high intake of nuts may help protect the elderly from cognitive decline.
Low-carb diets like Keto are, in McGehee’s view, “a force to be reckoned with, and nuts present an amazing source of ‘good’ fats and protein. They are low in carbs and deliver natural energy without sugar. The produce professionals should take full advantage of this (benefit) of nuts and keep them front of mind 365 days a year.”
New Products: A steady influx of new and unusual products — of late, these have included chocolate or yogurt-covered nuts, Asian dried rice mixes and more — fixes consumers’ attention on the department.
“Highlighting new items is a key for growth in sales,” says McGehee. “For instance, Pecan Nation, (pecan and peach growers in Ft. Valley, GA), came out with a gingerbread pecan flavor for the holidays.” It is only available between October and December each year, and presents what he terms a “perfect way to cross merchandise with holiday items for sale in produce departments.”
Eschew ‘Seasonality’: Self-limiting the potential of packaged nuts, or any category for that matter, is far too common. In fact, the single biggest mistake a retailer commonly makes, and can avoid, is “thinking that the focus on nuts needs to be during the holidays,” suggests McGehee. “Sure, that’s when the majority of nuts are merchandised, and people think of nuts during the holidays. But they provide a boost in sales all year.” He recommends produce department executives focus on creating a “nut destination” within the department.
Recipes: Wonderful Pistachios is one of the only branded nuts found in the produce aisles that people use for both culinary reasons and snacking. Providing shoppers ideas on how packaged nuts can be used in such recipes, Wonderful executives say, “can create dividends.”