Getting back to the roots will keep carrot category strong.
Carrots are a produce staple year-round. In winter they go into soups and stews; in the summer they are used as salad toppers. They are baked into desserts like carrot cake and go into juices to power up after a hard workout. Fresh-cut carrots are the perfect on-the-go snack to be eaten in the car or at the office, or packed into school lunches. It is for all these reasons that retail produce managers shouldn’t take these bright, fun root veggies for granted. Sticking to the basics of cross-merchandising, emphasizing the health message and giving bagged, bulk and fresh-cut carrots the right space in produce will help keep the category energized during all seasons.
Energizing The Category
“Carrots are known for high nutritional content, which has led to consistent consumption,” says Eric Proffitt, senior vice president of sales for Grimmway Farms, headquartered in Bakersfield, CA. “Their taste, texture and year-round availability makes them consistent sellers in the market.” Consistent, yes; but even a produce staple like carrots needs revitalization from time to time.
While carrot sales haven’t grown by leaps and bounds, the category has seen some gains. “From 2013 to 2015, carrot sales have grown modestly. Several factors have contributed to this modest growth, including the consumer shift to the perimeter of the store as people look for fresher, healthier options,” says Todd Putman, general manager of Campbell Soup Co.’s fresh-focused C-Fresh CPG division, based in Camden, NJ.
Campbell Fresh is the parent company of Bolthouse Farms, which has a century-long relationship with carrots. “Much of our 100-year history has been focused on getting our carrots, and other fruit and vegetable products, into shoppers’ baskets. Carrot demand is traditionally steady and predictable, and to move the needle you need to creatively market and merchandise,” says Putman.
Creativity is indeed key as carrots are rarely an impulse purchase. When they are on shopping lists, they have a specific purpose as an ingredient in a recipe or to get juiced. That doesn’t mean they won’t benefit from a little extra help. Educating consumers is the key to ensuring carrots are a primary focus in the market. “Point-of-sale messaging and promotions provide excellent opportunities for grocers to engage consumers in learning more about the produce on their shelves. For example, shelf talkers and web content highlighting health benefits, trusted farms and fresh recipes can enhance the shopping experience,” says Proffit. He suggests produce managers get creative with their store displays and use social media campaigns to engage customers, especially with holiday and lifestyle messaging. “Think Super Bowl snacks, back-to-school lunches and Christmas carrot cake,” he says.
The health benefits of carrots are largely known by shoppers and the ease with which they can be tossed into soups or salads is appreciated by time-strapped consumers. “As more consumers focus on healthier eating, carrots have become a popular snack to pair with various dips and products likes hummus and salsa,” says Putman. “Premium juice has also been increasingly popular with consumers, with many blends using carrots as a key ingredient.”
The juicing trend continues to grow, and that’s good news for carrots. “Juicing is something we’ve seen a lot of growth in over the last couple years,” says Chris Smotherman, account manager for Kern Ridge Growers based in Arvin, CA. “We’ve sold a lot more of our product to juice bars and foodservice. We see the usage of juice carrots up in stores, too.”
Part of the modest growth carrots have enjoyed is thanks to organics, which offer retailers another opportunity to increase sales. “The conventional carrot category remains flat both in volume and in revenue, while the organic carrot category is growing significantly due to the growth of the baby and value-added categories,” says Proffitt. It’s not just personal health that drives consumers, but a concern for the environment as well. “Consumers are becoming more familiar with sustainable practices and the benefits of organic produce, and demand has shifted to reflect almost 9 percent growth in total organic carrot sales over the last 52 weeks,” says Proffitt.
Sales of specialty carrots are on the rise, according to Matthew Bradley, sales manager at J&D Produce Inc., Edinburg, TX. These unique, colorful, flavorful and healthy variations look great in salads and appeal to foodies and home cooks looking to add a wow factor to their home-cooked meals. J&D Produce sells a specialty variety under its Little Bear Produce brand known as the maroon carrot. This fresh-eating carrot is packed with beta carotene and was developed by Dr. Leonard M. Pike, the former director/professor of the Vegetable and Fruit Improvement Center at Texas A&M University in College Station, TX. Dr. Pike also developed the Texas 1015 sweet onion. In addition to serving ideas, calling out the health aspects of specialty carrots like the maroon carrot, is beneficial to sales. “We have literature that we’ve produced that shows the carrot has 40 percent more beta-carotene than regular carrots,” says Bradley. “It’s higher in antioxidants and it’s a bunched carrot that’s nice to look at.”
The organic category offers many benefits to consumers. They appeal to individuals looking to eat healthy, as well as those who like to limit food waste. “Another benefit of organic carrots is they do not need to be peeled, and as is the case with many fruits and vegetables, the peel contains a lot of the healthiest nutrients,” says Simcha Weinstein, director of marketing for Albert’s Organics in Logan Township, NJ. This gives organics extra appeal as it saves a step in preparation, too.
Weinstein says price points may deter some of the more cost-conscious shoppers from trying organic produce in general. “There is typically a price gap between organic and conventional produce items — and sometimes this gap is significant. Organic carrots, however, tend to remain moderately priced and much closer in cost to its conventional counterpart than we see with most organic vegetables.”For those who gravitate toward organics, the benefits outweigh the higher price at the register. It’s less about what they are getting and more about what they are not getting when they buy organics. “Perhaps more than any other fruit or vegetable, the key to a healthy carrot is the soil in which it’s grown. Carrots are known for their ability to absorb many nutrients from the ground, and with healthy organic soil, it’s easy to understand how this makes for a healthier carrot. Unfortunately, if the soil is rich in pesticides and heavy metals — as is often the case with conventionally grown — carrots will absorb these as well,” says Weinstein. The ability of these root vegetables to pull both nutrients and chemicals out of the ground makes them a valuable tool for farmers. “If a grower is having difficulty growing certain vegetables, it’s not uncommon for them to put in a field of carrots for a season and they’ll absorb whatever is ailing the soil out of the ground, so other vegetables can grow and thrive again.”
Cross-merchandising carrots with natural soup partners such as celery and potatoes is a basic strategy in produce departments, according to Grimmway’s Proffitt, “Cross-promoting with complementary merchandise can help grocers drive produce sales and increase awareness of new products on their shelves.” Everyone appreciates a good bargain, too, and this gives retailers another opportunity to appeal to shoppers on a budget. “Instant savings are among the most popular promotional tactics. For example, shoppers can save $1 on premium organic juice with the purchase of a 1-pound bag of baby carrots.”
Carrots can also get a big boost from major marketing campaigns, such as the one launched by Bolthouse Farms in 2010. “Eat ‘Em Like Junk Food” was the company’s first big non-traditional marketing effort. The unique campaign likened baby carrots to some of America’s favorite snack foods — or junk food, as they are also known. “We’ve put our carrots in vending machines, participated in Sesame Street’s Eat Brighter! campaign and aligned with industry partners like PMA and FNV, a national campaign powered by the Partnership for a Healthier America, promoting fruit and vegetable consumption,” says C-Fresh’s Putman. Associating this bright, colorful vegetable with other snacks and promoting it as a healthy alternative to unhealthy foods makes them an easy sell for parents who want their kids to eat better. “We also work closely with our retail partners to create unique in-store experiences that drive demand.”
Putman recommends retailers cross-merchandise carrots with products that share ingredients. This serves as a reminder to consumers that there are other ways to get their daily dose of vegetables. “We produce juices and salad dressing, and both our premium and ultra-premium juices use carrots as an ingredient,” says Putman.
Promoting dipping partners is another way to inform shoppers about the possibilities of incorporating carrots into snacks and meal plans. “Apart from timeless, traditional recipes, consumers are always finding creative, new ways to keep carrots on the table,” says Proffitt. “Some love to pair fresh cuts with dips such as hummus, salsa, guacamole and peanut butter. We’ve seen them thinly sliced and shaved for coleslaw, wraps and sandwiches, and most recently, seasoned and speared onto barbecued kabobs.”
What is the right formula for moving the most carrots? How much space should retailers allocate to the category? “I feel like the entire produce section should be fresh carrots,” says Kern Ridge’s Smotherman, “but it really is going to depend on who your customer is. Ethnic store chains cater more to people who cook at home, so they’re going to benefit more from the bulk items. We notice with those stores 90 percent of their business will be bulk items and 10 percent will be ready-made because their customers are doing the preparation at home, especially if they have larger families.”
Smaller families mean smaller bags of course, and for larger chain stores Smotherman figures their customers will lean toward fresh-cut offerings like baby peeled two-to-one over bulk items.
This preference is exactly why carrots should be given their own space. “Best-in-class merchandising starts with separating whole and value-added carrots into two groups: the first for cooking and the second for convenience. We recommend placing whole carrots with other common cooking vegetables with one foot ribboning space in the wet rack area. Babies, shred, chips and sticks complement the prepackaged salad and refrigerated dressing sets, and we suggest a 4-foot display to drive incremental sales,” says Proffitt.
The Future of Fresh-Cut
Another reason fresh-cut benefits from a separation for bulk and bagged is due to the category’s continued rise in popularity. Millennials are clean label shoppers, but they demand convenience as well, and chopping vegetables is a step many of them are more than willing to forgo in order to save time when preparing meals. They’re not the only ones. The constant crunch for time spans every generation of shoppers, which is why the fresh-cut category continues to grow.
“Value-added carrots for snacking and salads are on the rise among fresh-cuts, and rainbow babies, cellos and shred are the newest, more colorful options on the market,” says Proffitt. The creative ways that carrots are cut offer even more appeal for appetizers and salads. “Crinkled coins, julienne cuts and shredded varieties are preferred for cooking and preparing healthy appetizers, while dipping sticks and individually wrapped baby carrots are convenient for fresh, hassle-free snacks.”
C-Fresh’s Putman also believes fresh-cut will continue to appeal to consumers looking for convenience. “If a product is easy to find and easy to use, consumers will naturally gravitate toward it. That is why Bolthouse Farms makes a variety of carrots — baby, matchstick and chips — and innovates with different packaging (such as snack packs) and cross-merchandises based on different seasons.”