Everything is outsized when it comes to the Super Bowl, even fruits and vegetables.
Originally printed in the December 2023 issue of Produce Business.
What’s on the menu for Super Bowl LVIII? It’s a key question for retailers to know what ingredients should be front and center in the produce department. Set for Feb. 11, 2024, this marks the first time the Super Bowl will be played in Las Vegas, NV.
Traditionally, the host venue has played a role in the menu. Recent surveys of the most popular Super Bowl food by state show Birria tacos topping the Nevada list in 2021, buffalo chicken dip in 2022, and hummus in 2023.
In Las Vegas, the man who has his finger on the pulse of produce at the Allegiant Stadium, the location of the 2024 Super Bowl, is Robert Schueller, public relations director for Melissa’s/World Variety Produce. In 2020, the Vernon, CA-headquartered specialty produce supplier became the stadium’s Official Produce Supplier.
“Las Vegas is known for its many restaurants by celebrity chefs and as a buffet town. In terms of cuisine, it’s a transplant city, so instead of a particular dish the city is known for, all foods that are typically popular to eat and watch the Big Game will be popular in 2024,” says Schueller.
“Guacamole, salsa, chili, pizza, hot wings, tacos, sliders, and Asian finger foods all will be themed at Big Game parties,” he adds. “What we may see is an influence from the teams that are playing, where they are from, and favorite foods in these cities. Overall, what has changed over the years is that the menu for the game is no longer considered ‘guy food.’ Today, the Big Game is a family food event and we’re seeing much more produce.”
Everything is outsized when it comes to the Super Bowl, and there’s no exception when it comes to fresh fruit and vegetables.
“The Big Game has become another big holiday,” says Mike Roberts, vice president of produce operations for Harps Food Stores, a 147-store chain headquartered in Springdale, AR. “I can remember years ago, it wasn’t that big of a deal, but now this holiday, as I call it, has gotten big enough that it is on our holiday calendar every year.”
“It’s a great time to have a big event for produce,” Roberts adds. “At this time of year, produce managers are chomping at the bit for spring and summer, so they can really start selling produce. It’s a breath of fresh air and football.”
Here are five ways to sell more produce for the Super Bowl.
1. GO BIG ON AVOCADOS
Avocados scored retail sales of $52.2 million and 51.9 million units in the week leading up to last year’s Super Bowl, according to the Mission Viejo, CA-based Hass Avocado Board’s Avocado Holiday Retail Recap: Big Game, Valentine’s Day, and St. Patrick’s Day, released July 5, 2023.
Additionally, extra-large avocado units were up by 58% during the holiday week, which included Valentine’s Day in 2023, as it will again in 2024. Large and extra-large PLUs contributed an additional 4.6 million units to the category versus the year prior.
“The industry has done an excellent job marketing avocados and guacamole for football events, so much so that guacamole is now known as the ‘ultimate game day food,’” says Samantha McCaul, marketing manager for Concord Foods LLC, in Brockton, MA. “We experience a peak in guacamole mix sales during football season and for the Big Game.”
Because each region in the U.S. can have different flavor preferences, Concord Foods offers seven guacamole mixes. The newest is the Hatch Chile Guacamole Mix, which is seasoned with Hatch Chile powder and is available year-round. “This mix is becoming very popular in the Southwest,” McCaul says.
The company will offer themed floor displays and retailer-targeted promotions.
Avocados From Mexico (AFM) will run its national shopper marketing campaign in the run-up to the Super Bowl, Jan. 4-Feb. 11, 2024. The Irving, TX-based nonprofit marketing organization that manages the brand is partnered with football, food and TV reality star, Jesse Palmer, to encourage shoppers to host a Better Bowl. In other words, a game-day viewing party made better with plenty of guacamole. The campaign includes QR codes on in-store free-to-retail themed displays, which shoppers can follow to score chances to win prizes, including cash back on avocado purchases.
“The link between avocados and football is so strong that we started even earlier this season,” says Alvaro Luque, AFM’s president and chief executive officer. “For the first time, Avocados from Mexico were the official avocado of the college football playoff.”
AFM’s Guac Gating promotion runs through Jan. 8, with themed display signage, football-shaped display bins and themed packaging with cash-back offers.
Guacamole, dips, and sauces are just one of the top three ways households use avocados, according to the Hass Avocado Board’s Avocados Consumer Tracking Study 2023: Segment Report. The other two are on salads and on sandwiches, burgers and wraps.
“These top three uses are all perfect to enjoy during the Big Game,” says Terry Splane, vice president of marketing for the California Avocado Commission, based in Irvine, CA. “California avocado season usually runs from spring through summer, but some early-season fruit often is available in time for Big Game promotions.”
“The Big Game is one of those events that lends itself to over-the-top multi-product displays,” Splane adds. “Some retailers have merchandised California avocados as part of creative display contests that produce managers put together with football signage and props, along with other produce items like tomatoes and lemons used for guacamole. Out-of-department displays with chips and beverages can lead to incremental purchases, and signage incorporating footballs and goal posts draws attention to the produce department.”
2. THINK DEPARTMENT-WIDE
To say Super Bowl food is only about avocados is like saying the Fourth of July is solely about watermelons and nothing else, and this isn’t true, says Harps Food Stores’ Roberts. “There are lots of other great items we promote to make sure that our customers have everything they need to watch or entertain for the Big Game. Vegetable trays are a big draw, Roma tomatoes, jalapeño peppers, sweet onions, baby carrots, broccoli florets all deserve wider allocations.”
Entertaining is a big theme driving football fare, adds Daniel Bell, director of produce for Grocery Outlet, a 440-plus store chain headquartered in Emeryville, CA. “Party trays are big movers for us at this time.”
“It’s a great time to have a big event for produce. At this time of year, produce managers are chomping at the bit for spring and summer, so they can really start selling produce. It’s a breath of fresh air and football.”— Mike Roberts, Harps Food Stores, Springdale, AR
Data analyzed from Numerator reveals carrot shoppers are even a bit more likely to have attended a NFL football game or watched one on a screen in the last 12 months than the typical American shopper, according to David Bright, vice president of marketing for Grimmway Farms, in Bakersfield, CA.
“To drive sales, merchandise baby carrots, carrot sticks, and carrot chips adjacent to refrigerated dips and dressings to make it easy for the shopper to pick up. Add football balloons and deck out the table in the colors of the teams that will compete in the game to draw attention to the display.”
Potatoes are also ripe for Big Game promotions.
“Smaller potatoes can be a great snack for parties. We promote Tasteful Selections potatoes every year, and this year, we are looking forward to promoting their new nibbles potatoes. We think this will be a great item for consumers to pop something in the oven and have a healthy snack,” says Roberts.
Nibbles are tiny baby potatoes with thin skins for quick cooking. Tasteful Selections, based in Arvin, CA, offers several SKUs, including Honey Gold, Ruby Sensation, Sunburst Blend and Sunrise Medley in 1-pound plastic or net bags.
“Stuffed mushrooms are also a great item and one some consumers don’t think about until you merchandise them at eye level in the cut vegetable section or the meat department,” says Roberts.
The versatility of mushrooms leads to multiple merchandising opportunities.
“Mushrooms go with everything, whether you start your Sunday football with breakfast and an omelet, or an afternoon game with lunch and a bowl of chili, or Sunday night football with pizza. The Baby Bella has broad appeal from the Pacific Northwest to the Southeast and all points in between,” says Mike Stephan, vice president of sales at Monterey Mushrooms, headquartered in Watsonville, CA.
Stephan says mushrooms are best when displayed in refrigerated cases that are well stocked and well signed. “Offer usage ideas such as grilling with kabobs, topping pizza, or adding it to the skewer in a bloody Mary,” he adds. “Promotional ideas are all that it takes.”
Another way to promote a multitude of fresh fruits and vegetables for the Super Bowl is to tap into the grazing or charcuterie board trend. Melissa’s/World Variety Produce offers full-color photos and recipes of produce-based boards that can be displayed at the point of sale for inspiration and a multi-item ring. For example, the Tropical Fruit Grazing Board calls for rambutan, white and magenta dragon fruit, kiwi, kiwano melon and blood orange. The vegetable-centric Grilled Vegetable Platter used baby carrots, watermelon radish, asparagus, baby heirloom tomatoes, colorful cauliflower and Belgian endive. All that’s needed is a dip.
3. BUILD A DIP & DIPPERS DESTINATION
“Vegetable dips are also a great tie-in with baby carrots, both in the ad and on the shelf,” says Harps Food Stores’ Roberts.
During key holiday times like the Super Bowl, Fresh Innovations, the Rhome, TX-headquartered maker of Yo Quiero! brand guacamole, offers retailers deals to provide competitive pricing on the shelf, according to Jay Alley, vice president of sales and co-owner. “We also like to bundle our deals to include our other Dip Destination items such as salsa, queso, bean dip and elote.”
Alley adds these fresh dips are best displayed with store-cut vegetables and store-packaged chips.
“We also promote the large bottles of refrigerated ranch salad dressing and tie it in the ad with wings from the meat department.”
Consumers purchase more Litehouse Homestyle Ranch, Chunky Blue Cheese, and dips in early February because they are staples to many Super Bowl menu combinations, such as chicken wings, seven-layer dip, French fries, jalapeño poppers and more, according to Kate Nees, brand manager for Litehouse Foods, in Sandpoint, ID.
“With the Super Bowl headed to Las Vegas, consumers planning to turn up the heat with some spice can turn to Litehouse’s Jalapeño Ranch with loaded tater tot nachos, Southwestern Dip with peppers, Guacamole Herb Blend with mashed avocados and Avocado Ranch.”
Litehouse launched the Take It to the House promotion in November, and 27 retailers from coast-to-coast — such as Food Lion, Giant Eagle Mariano’s, King Soopers, Kroger, Ralphs, Smith’s Food & Drug and Walmart — are participating.
“Designed for football fans and ranch lovers, we’re dropping a treat in our Instagram stories for the first 1,000 followers who are paying attention on game day. Every Sunday through January, we’ll offer a coupon for a bottle of our classic Homestyle Ranch in stores,” says Nees.
4. GO NUTS
Football season is when retailers can see an increase in pistachio sales if appropriately promoted, says Joseph Setton, executive vice president of Setton International Foods Inc., in Commack, NY.
“While everyone loves a chip, healthier options now have a permanent place on the snack list for game day,” Setton says. “Convenience is critical when it comes to game-time snacking, so retailers can score big this season with our no-shell Seasoned Pistachio Kernels.”
“We know that snacking tastes vary by region, so our teams work closely with retailers to find the best flavor profiles for their customers,” Setton adds. The company has a large selection, including the newly launched Tajín Seasoned Pistachio Kernels, which joins a line that includes Buffalo Wing, Scorpion Pepper, Garlic Onion, Salt & Pepper and Jalapeño flavors.
The company is offering a Super Bowl promotion featuring some of its top items.
“Retailers can save big by bringing in our two most effective displays: the Seasoned Kernel display with up to four varieties and the branded quarter pallet bin with value-sized 2-pound bags of our roasted salted inshell pistachios,” says Setton.
A salty, spicy Cajun mix works in all regions, says Stephanie Blackwell, founder and chief executive officer of Aurora Products, in Orange, CT, which sells spice nuts and tail mixes in attention-getting display-ready cases. “Our plastic football tray with a trail mix brings enthusiasm to the consumer.”
For the first time in over a decade, Wonderful Pistachios, headquartered in Los Angeles, CA, has introduced a new in-shell flavor. Seasoned Salt offers a blend of savory seasonings accented with garlic, onion and paprika. Just in time for football season, these come in 14- and 40-ounce bags.
“Consumer demand dictates the need for flavorful varieties when purchasing snacks. With Seasoned Salt, we are excited to spice up the snack aisle and give consumers something new to enjoy during game days,” says Diana Salsa, associate vice president of marketing.
5. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF TWO HOLIDAYS
In 2024, as in 2023, both the Super Bowl and Valentine’s Day fall in the same week. Compared to 2020, the dual event grew by 3% in dollar sales, based on HAB’s Avocado Holiday Retail Recap: Big Game, Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day, released July 5, 2023.
“This year, with Valentine’s Day a couple of days after the Big Game, we are working on some fun verbiage like ‘for the love of the game!’” says Harps Food Stores’ Roberts. “It could be fun!”