FALL 2018 Merchandising Tips

Originally printed in the August 2018 issue of Produce Business.

From apples to pumpkins, there are tricks to marketing and selling seasonal products before and during key holidays.

As the summer heat transitions into cool fall temperatures, produce retailers need to transition to fall promotions. Simple preparations for promoting fall favorites such as apples, cranberries, pumpkins and squash can mean easy additional sales with little effort.


Apples are synonymous with the fall season and play a prominent role in popular holidays and activities, says Cynthia Haskins, president and chief executive of the New York Apple Association Inc. in Victor, NY. Haskins says New York offers 26 apple varieties for retailers, including McIntosh and the apple “born” in the state, Empire.

“From Labor Day picnics, back-to-school lunches and on-the-go snacks to tailgating parties and Halloween celebrations, New York apples are a perennial favorite,” she says. “During the Thanksgiving and holiday season, apples and ciders are festive and delicious.”

Another company, Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc. (OSF), Summerland, British Columbia, began to offer its U.S. customers something interesting late last fall — nonbrowning Arctic apples.

“Apples are such a sweet addition to Thanksgiving dinners and fall décor, so we will be focusing on showing consumers what they can do with our nonbrowning apples for their holiday feasts, as well as how our dried apples make the perfect back-to-school snack,” says Neal Carter, president of Okanagan Specialty Fruits.

The company currently only grows Arctic apples, so it is focused on its promotion.

“Recipe cards are something we like to provide consumers with to give them meal ideas and easy step-by-step instructions on how to put it all together,” says Carter. OSF features recipe ideas on its website, including a Make-Ahead Arctic Apple Kale Salad that Carter says is perfect for busy holiday meals.

One of the more popular items in the fall are caramel apples. Tastee Apple, Inc. in Newcomerstown, OH, recommends starting the season at retail around Sept. 1 to ensure the products are in stores for Labor Day and the start of the school year, says president Greg Hackenbracht. However, Hackenbracht says there have always been two weeks a year when caramel apples will not sell well — the first two weeks of November.

“For years, we couldn’t figure this out,” he says. “Then through a focus group, a woman explained her kids go trick-or-treating every year, and with all that candy in her house, ‘do you think I’m going to buy more?’ ”

Hackenbracht says stores also can advertise mid-to-late October to promote caramel apples for the Halloween holiday.


Cranberries are a great fit for most holidays because of year-round availability, says Michelle Hogan, executive director of the Cranberry Marketing Committee, Wareham, MA.

“Displaying cranberries with other recipe ingredients for back-to-school snacks and lunches, Halloween treats and Thanksgiving recipes is an effective way to inspire impulse sales,” she says.
For Thanksgiving, Hogan recommends retailers demonstrate how fresh cranberries can be used to create “beautiful” holiday centerpieces with store-bought floral arrangements or using large glass candleholders.

“Featuring cranberries in rustic wooden crates connect the fruit with the farms,” says Hogan. “Placing them near seasonal items, like pumpkins or cornucopia, reinforce cranberries’ place with those holidays.”

Pumpkins and squash also can be used for fall decorating starting in August all the way through Thanksgiving, says Michele Young-quist, president of Bay Baby Produce, Inc., Mount Vernon, WA.

“Unique pumpkin and squash varieties continue to grow in popularity,” she says. “They are unique by offering interesting colors, sizes, shapes and textures. Consumers are always looking for things that everyone doesn’t have, or they’re looking for the latest home décor craze.”

Buurma Farms, Inc. in Willard, OH, offers acorn and spaghetti squashes in the fall, along with ornamentals after Labor Day, says co-owner Loren Buurma.

“Products that hold up well and are ripe for fall promotions include root crops like radishes, onions, leeks, beets and kohlrabi,” he says. “When the temperature outside cools off, collard and mustard greens and kale sell well in September and October, as well.”

Retailers can leverage the colder weather and consumers’ penchant for quick, hearty options by promoting and displaying items such as Green Giant Fresh’s vegan meal bowls, which come in six unique flavors — Buddha, burrito, fried rice, pad thai, ramen and rancheros.

“As the days are getting shorter, and the nights are getting chillier, these are convenient, versatile and nutritious meals to grab and go for lunches, or to easily add a favorite protein to and turn a microwavable veggie bowl into a nutritious complete meal that the entire family can enjoy,” says Lori Bigras, director of marketing and communications for Growers Express, which markets the Green Giant Fresh brand.


Haskins of the New York Apple Association says apples can stand alone in terms of flavor.

“But pairing them with Cheddar cheese or a decadent caramel dip is always a hit,” she says. “Apples are versatile, which means they’re fabulous in salads, on sandwiches, in smoothies and of course in pies.”

Apples are known for their color and flavor, says Haskins. “So, when it comes to capturing consumer attention during the back-to-school season, the trick is in big, colorful displays,” she says.

The New York Apple Association is teaming with public schools across the state to raise awareness of New York Apples and is partnering with The Farm On! Foundation and the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets on the “The Big Apple Crunch” set for Oct. 25 at 2 p.m.

“Last year, 2.3 million people participated in the event and more are expected this year,” says Haskins.

The Cranberry Marketing Committee’s Hogan says fresh cranberries’ in-store footprint has expanded into floral departments.

“Beyond food, fresh cranberries are a decorative secret weapon,” she says. “With their bright-hued reds and pearl-like shape, cranberries enhance tablescapes, brighten floral and candle arrangements, and bejewel wreaths and garlands.”

The Cranberry Marketing Committee offers a separate retail section on its website (uscranberries.com) that provides a one-stop access to cranberry messages, recipes and resources to help drive sales year-round in their stores.

“From success stories to a complete downloadable in-store sampling toolkit, the CMC has valuable tools to help retailers build their cranberry promotions,” says Hogan says.

“Products that hold up well and are ripe for fall promotions include root crops like radishes, onions, leeks, beets and kohlrabi. When the temperature outside cools off, collard and mustard greens and kale sell well in September and October, as well.”

— Loren Buurma, Buurma Farms

Hogan also recommends demonstrating cranberries to encourage impulse purchases.

“Providing shoppers with reasons and ways to enjoy cranberries — especially new and trendy recipes, like cranberry salsa or chili — inspire cranberry purchases,” she says. A couple of in-store cranberry recipe ideas are “bloody” cranberry salsa for Halloween and cranberry chicken salad on flatbread.

Carter of Okanagan Specialty Fruits says the company’s Arctic apples and ApBitz dried apples are extremely versatile and would complement many other products in fall displays. Retailers need to remember to highlight convenience in fall promotions, says Carter, as every parent is looking for ease in back-to-school lunches. Okanagan offers 10-ounce grab-and-go bags, which feature kid-friendly, nonbrowning Arctic apples.

Carter suggests mixing up the Halloween theme by having a retail display including apples to “carve” into ghoulish characters in October.

Following the Halloween theme, Youngquist of Bay Baby Produce says the company’s retail clients have increased sales of pumpkins by cross promoting with pre-painted pumpkins, pumpkin paint kits, unique pumpkin varieties and hard winter squash.

Bay Baby pumpkin painting kits sell best, she says, when department staff creates a few hand-crafted examples; they also sell well during a pumpkin painting event offered as a store promotion.

“Online crafting and home decorating sites offer a plethora of ideas as well,” she says. “One cute idea is painting pumpkins white, stacking them largest on bottom to smallest on top, to create a snowman. At the end of the day, it’s all about how you’d like to utilize your fresh holiday décor (pumpkins and squash) after the season.”

The company offers half- and full-pallet display options, as well as straight bins.

“Ready-to-display options reduce labor, maintain sales and offer opportunity to increase sales,” says Youngquist.

“By offering additional cross-promotional options through pumpkins and squash, retailers can keep their everyday consumers from seeking out competitor options. Cross-promotional options save consumers valuable time by offering one-stop shopping for grocery and fall home decorating needs.”

Pumpkins and squash can be promoted for fall decorating or holiday baking by making fresh pumpkin or squash entrees, purees, soups, roasted seeds and other dishes, Youngquist says.

For soups, Buurma recommends zucchini and yellow squash in cross promotions.

Corn also sells well for Labor Day promos, he adds. “Timing is critical with corn promotions to maximize Labor Day sales.”

“By offering additional cross-promotional options through pumpkins and squash, retailers can keep their everyday consumers from seeking out competitor options. Cross-promotional options save consumers valuable time by offering one-stop shopping for grocery and fall home decorating needs.”

— Michele Youngquist, Bay Baby Produce

A popular fall recipe Buurma recommends is cowboy caviar — a dipping dish his family makes regularly. Ingredients include black beans, sweet corn, chopped green onions, chopped tomatoes, cilantro and salt. Shoppers can also add favorite items such as jalapenos, avocados, diced zucchini and yellow squash.

“Mix this all together and enjoy it with tortilla chips or as a side dish,” says Buurma.

George Wooten, president of Chadbourn, NC-based Wayne E. Bailey Produce Co., says a good fall promotion time is Columbus Day in the United States (or Canadian Thanksgiving) — both are the same day, which is Oct. 8 this year.

Wayne E. Bailey offers bulk sweet potatoes along with tray packs and its fingerlings brand “Petitelings.”

“We recommend a recipe for a sweet potato casserole with creamy sweet potatoes, pecans and brown sugar,” says Wooten. “It’s got a good crunch to it.”

Other well-received sweet potato promotional options are shrimp and crawfish boils for Labor Day barbecues or tailgating for fall sporting events.

“A shrimp boil can include corn, onions, sweet potatoes, regular potatoes and shrimp,” says Wooten. “You can use U.S. No. 1 petite potatoes with the skin still on in these boils.”

He recommends grilling sweet potatoes after peeling them and cutting them lengthways, half-inch thick, then adding olive oil and sea salt before eating them.

Wooten says the company’s steamer bag program also does well in fall promotions.

“The 1.5-pound, triple-washed petite sweet potatoes include around four to six potatoes and retail for about $1.99 to $3.29, depending on the location,” he says. “A good promotion for this product also is two bags for $4.”

Wooten says bagged sweet potatoes cross promote well with seasoning packages in the meat section to serve with proteins such as fish, chicken and beef.