The right mix of traditional, seasonal and unique produce can lift sales.
From pumpkins all dressed up to bales of hay serving as a stage for colorful squash varieties, fall brings a season of merchandising opportunities to produce that includes holidays and much more.
Some of the best merchandising in the fall involves eye-catching displays of a number of produce items that consumers can pair together in the kitchen.
“As a rule in the Northeast, we switch gears from summer selling to fall harvest,” says Jeff Cady, director of produce and floral at Tops Friendly Markets, Williamsville, NY. “Cooking veg, pumpkins, hard-shell squash, potatoes, onions, apples and cider all start to ramp up. People go from the grill on the patio to the oven in the kitchen.”
Loren Buurma, treasurer of Buurma Farms in Willard, OH, says the opportunities to sell more produce is only limited by the creativity of retailers.
“The combinations for cross promotion are endless,” he says.
FALL MERCHANDISING: A CORNUCOPIA OF POSSIBILITIES
When putting together displays, it helps to think about contrast and providing splashes of color to lure in customers, particularly around the holidays.
“Tied in with the right products, anything can look good,” says Cady. “The brown of the kiwi pops when displayed in the center of a cranberry display or with red or green Anjou pears. The tans, greens and oranges of squash are representative of the fall foliage most of us drive around looking for.”
Callie Whitney, associate marketing manager at Growers Express, Salinas, CA, agrees, saying, “you can merchandise pumpkins and squash as a cornucopia with other fall vegetables. Cranberries, pears and squash are amenable to good looking displays. They add nice color.”
Fall means harvest for many produce items, and that makes it a perfect occasion to put out displays that celebrate the abundance coming in from the countryside. Some fall favorites lend themselves particularly well to being displayed next to each other.
“Cranberries are a fall staple and lend themselves to cornucopia displays or being shown in rustic wooden crates, further connecting the fruit with the farms from which they are harvested,” says Michelle Hogan, executive director of the Cranberry Marketing Committee, Wareham, MA. “Displaying cranberries in traditional wooden crates is a unique and eye-catching way to draw attention to this fall favorite.”
As for size of displays and individual items, especially at holiday time, it makes sense to feature larger-size packs.
“Larger pack sizes, 32-ounce, are ideal for holiday meals and are recommended to be stocked on shelves the weeks leading up to any holiday, such as Thanksgiving, for incremental sales and a quick and easy in-and-out promotional item,” says Whitney.
Beyond simply featuring quality produce, retailers can also boost sales by getting the word out about what they are carrying in stores.
“We work with our marketing teams to bundle ads together with items appropriate for the season,” says Maria Brous, director of media and community relations at large supermarket chain Publix, which is based in Lakeland, FL. “Some examples of seasonal messaging are King O’ The West honeydews, strawberry themes, pumpkin themes and grower stories.”
Beyond a strict focus on holidays, produce executives should note other important fall dates and keep displays fun and inviting.
Chad Hakenbracht, vice president of production at Tastee Apple, Newcomerstown, OH, says back-to-school is a good place to begin the fall merchandising season.
“Different varieties of caramel apples are amenable to retailer displays during the season from Labor Day to Thanksgiving,” says Hakenbracht, whose family has been producing artisan caramel apples since 1974. “In term of caramel apples, discounted pricing helps promote sales.”
FOCUS ON COOKING, HEALTH
Another good place to start with fall produce merchandising is to consider customers’ seasonal culinary challenges and build attractive displays around them.
“It helps to offer consumers solutions for completing their time-honored recipes by merchandising apples next to other ingredients, such as celery,” says Whitney. “Labor Day, barbecue gatherings, back-to-school, Halloween and Thanksgiving are all merchandising opportunities in produce.
“Green beans, sweet potatoes, Russet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, celery, green onions, broccoli and fresh value-added offerings are ideal during time-starved holiday preparation,” she notes.
According to Buurma Farms’ Buurma, promoting a number of items that are increasingly important to healthier lifestyles — from mixed greens and beets to zucchini, tomatoes, cabbage, cucumbers and peppers — can be effective, especially when marketing to Millennials and Generation Z.
Publix gives its customers, both online and in-store, additional reasons to pause when looking at fruits and vegetables by not only promoting their healthful benefits but also seeking ways to fit them into possible meal solutions.
“We usually try to support the Labor Day holiday with convenient fresh-cut fruit,” says Brous. “As the melon and cherry season winds down, we turn our focus to new crop apples and fall cooking vegetables. Our Aprons [culinary] team works with our in-house chefs and dietitians to create recipes that are on-trend and easy to prepare. These recipes are released to coincide with the season.”
’TIS THE SEASON … FOR PUMPKINS
The pumpkin can be a fall star in produce departments for a season extending from long before Halloween until a little after Thanksgiving.
“A good way to display pumpkins is with related fall items, such as Indian corn stalks or bales of hay,” says Jennifer Pierce, sales and marketing representative at Bay Baby Produce, Mt. Vernon, WA. “You can also put out a huge variety of different types of pumpkins. We have six or seven different color varieties. We have a half pallet display with spaces for five different products.”
In 2000, the company developed its signature Pumpkin Patch Pals. The ‘Pals’ are a vibrant crew of individually hand-decorated, painted mini pumpkins with happy, festive character faces and distinctive, feathery hair. Today, Bay Baby Produce grows about 250 acres consisting of miniature pumpkins, pie baking pumpkins and an assortment of ornamental pumpkins.
“Traditionally, the time to put out pumpkin displays is right after Labor Day,” says Pierce. “You can keep them out as long as they last, which is 30 to 60 days.”
Dan Schantz Farm in Zionsville, PA, offers Cutie Pies, which are pumpkins no larger than a softball that are already decorated wearing a variety of cloth wizard hats and are ready to party. They can be displayed with a plethora of stickers or paint kits. They are shipped in 4-color display cases, with easy-carry handles, and they can be paired with companion pint-sized pumpkin monsters or with painted and shellacked gourds that feature warts.
“The Halloween holiday is the biggest [for sales],” notes Pierce. “Following Halloween, the No. 1 pumpkins that people need are pie pumpkins,” she says, adding, “You can also display the pumpkins with pie baking items such as the crust, and we sell a pie-baking kit.”
Pumpkins may be the star among fall squash, but they also have many relatives that can attract a crowd if displayed well.
“We have a lot of organic following,” says Pierce. “One hundred percent of our fall squash is organic.”
CRANBERRIES ADD COLOR
Cranberry producers are working, with some success, to spread the idea that their product answers questions beyond Thanksgiving.
“Cranberries are an excellent fit for most holidays as they are available year-round,” says Michelle Hogan, executive director of the Cranberry Marketing Committee, Wareham, MA. “Cranberries are an excellent product for back-to-school snacks and lunches. Displaying cranberries with other recipe ingredients for back-to-school snacks and lunches, Halloween treats, and Friendsgiving and Thanksgiving recipes is an effective way to inspire impulse sales.
“For Thanksgiving, retailers can demonstrate how fresh cranberries can be used to create beautiful holiday centerpieces with store-bought floral arrangements or using large glass candle holders.”
The Cranberry Marketing Committee (CMC) was established as a Federal Marketing Order in 1962 to ensure a stable, orderly supply of good quality product. The Marketing Order has been amended several times since its inception to expand the CMC’s ability to expand market development projects in domestic and international markets.
“As America’s Original Superfruit, cranberries are a great fit for most holiday meals,” says Hogan. “Cranberries pair extremely well with other fall fruits and vegetables, and they have a versatility factor that should not be underestimated. Displaying cranberries with other seasonal produce, along with a recipe or serving suggestion, is an excellent way to inspire shoppers to add cranberries to their meals. From sautéed cranberry and broccoli salad to roasted with sweet potatoes, or baked with pears, there are endless ways to use cranberries in holiday meals.”
Recipe cards can be a way to expand the use of cranberries, as well as some other fall produce varieties.
“Both classic favorites and new, trendy recipes that feature cranberries are great ways to help sell more cranberries,” says Hogan. “In-store signage promoting cranberries, along with point-of-purchase recipe tearpads put ways to use cranberries into consumers’ hands.”