How Fresh From Florida fruits and vegetables keep product moving.
Florida produce is a sign of spring and a cue for retailers to begin merchandising the state’s spring bounty. Some key Florida produce, like sweet corn, announces the arrival of a “taste of spring” from The Sunshine State.
While the rest of the country is still feeling winter’s effects, Florida can provide consumers with nutritious, fresh produce and help fill retail displays. Its climate gives Florida growers a clear advantage over other growing regions.
“Florida’s long growing season ensures retail markets will always have fresh and local Florida produce to offer their consumers,” says Mindy Lee, Fresh from Florida bureau chief and media and communications manager for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS), based in Tallahassee, FL. “January through May, shoppers know some of the product grown fresh in the United States is being sourced in Florida. That gives us a great advantage. However, it can also result in Florida being the primary producer going against any imported product. This is why the Fresh from Florida logo is so important.”
WIDE PRODUCT VARIETY
From November to early June, while most other U.S. states are dormant, Florida produces the bulk of U.S. fresh commodities. Florida leads the country in a host of specialty crops, including cucumbers, squash, snap beans, tomatoes, grapefruit, oranges and watermelon. During the spring, the state also produces large volumes of bell peppers, eggplant, blueberries and tropicals.
“Florida has the advantage of producing more than 300 different agricultural commodities, including produce, so the sheer variety of crops that we grow makes us unique,” says Lisa Lochridge, director of public affairs for the Maitland, FL-based Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association. “The variety of fruits and vegetables coming out of Florida combined with the timing of our growing season are a winning combination for produce retailers.”
Because of Florida’s timing, the state’s products are marketed differently than produce sourced from other Southeastern states. “It’s simply on scale,” says John Alderman, senior account manager with Duda Farm Fresh Foods, Inc., headquartered in Oviedo, FL. “Florida is typically the only one marketing in the spring.”
With Florida, it’s the state’s geographic location. “As the real estate agent says, it’s ‘Location, location, location’,” says Chuck Weisinger, president and chief executive of Weis-Buy Farms, Inc., in Fort Myers, FL. “We are located within a two-and-a-half-day ride of 125 million hungry customers.”
For many U.S. retailers, Florida’s timing is a welcome reminder of the new season. “Florida is kind of like winter’s finally over and we’re getting into spring,” says Keith Cox, produce category manager with K-VA-T Food Stores, Inc., which is based in Abingdon, VA. “Florida is what really starts things. It jumpstarts the summer selling.”
BEATING THE WINTER BLAHS
Retailers can capitalize on selling Fresh from Florida items during the winter doldrums. “Consumers are eager to get back to normal and to what they considered ‘norms’,” says Mary Ostlund, director of marketing at Brooks Tropicals LLC, based Homestead, FL. “One norm is buying locally, hindered greatly by winter. Those eager to buy local will be willing to stretch their definition of local and enjoy domestic produce from The Sunshine State.”
Florida offers many advantages. “The year-round growing season makes it easy for consumers to find an abundant selection of fresh, healthy Florida produce and vegetables,” says Lee. “During late fall through spring, Florida is a primary supplier of fresh grown vegetables and fruits. Produce grown in Florida during this period is as “local” as they can supply to their customers.”
Florida plays an important part in retail merchandising. “The Florida spring production is critical to the pipeline of row crops, berries, salads and orange juice,” says Maria Brous, director of media and community relations for Publix Super Markets, Inc., headquartered in Lakeland, FL. “The vast amount of products Florida grows during the spring is well represented throughout the produce department.”
Consumer preferences for Buy American play into Florida’s advantages as well. “Florida spring produce is good because a lot of people want to buy USA,” says Sal Selletto, produce manager at the Super Foodtown of Sea Girt, NJ, a part of the Middletown, NJ-based Food Circus/Foodtown. “When they see those Florida items, they tend to be good quality. Branding of USA is the key. If the weather is good, we do very well with the whole lineup.”
Florida’s wintertime production assures shoppers they can buy domestic produce. “Fresh and local is critical,” says Alderman. “Without Florida, the produce department on the Eastern Seaboard would be empty or available at higher prices during this season. Retailers can count on Florida for seasonal items and capitalize on promotable produce, including leaf lettuce, celery, radishes and sweet corn.”
IMPROVEMENTS HELP SALES
Florida growers improve the quality of their products by consistently monitoring their crops through drone technology, which sends alerts on field insect and chemical problems, says Weisinger. “Improved refrigeration technology has made the ‘farm to table’ label a truism,” he says. “Fresher produce improves the color and taste of produce from Florida. The produce is constantly being tested and marketed to increase our entry into the national and global markets as our reputation for quality and innovation increases.”
While Florida citrus grower-shippers supply Valencia oranges and other citrus, retailers can benefit by sourcing Florida citrus for in-store juicing programs, which hit their peak in the spring. “Because of the variety, the late Valencias, a lot of retailers get a bit of a spike in the juice sales,” says Russell Kiger, sales manager, DLF International, Inc., based in Fort Pierce, FL. “When you’re a consumer, it doesn’t matter what it is. You want to enjoy the entire buying and consuming experience. If one buys a half gallon of fresh-squeezed orange juice and enjoys it at home, you buy more. That’s what retailers want, repeat sales. ”
Increasing retail and restaurant interest in juicing is helping sell more fresh Florida produce. Onsite fresh-squeezed citrus juice is making its way into mainstream supermarkets. Other healthy, blended juices and smoothies are also popular. “Florida is unique to be able to create many juice blends from the fruit and vegetables grown during the winter and early spring months,” says Lee. “Spinach, kale, blueberries, oranges, watermelon and orange juice are all Florida commodities that make great smoothies. Celery juice is very popular and a great base for juicing programs, as well.”
Florida also harvests blueberries, which typically begin harvesting in March. “Berry lovers and retailers alike look forward to fresh domestically grown blueberries that are more marketable to consumers,” says Nick Wishnatzki, marketing projects manager with Wish Farms, in Plant City, FL.
Florida is also a major supplier of domestic-grown tropicals. “In spring, Florida tropicals are a relief to escaping winter’s doldrums and the seemingly long wait for spring’s arrival,” says Ostlund. “Yes, the thermometer might hint at a soup for dinner, but craving spring, your consumer may opt for a side of tropical fruit that almost defies the temperature outside.”
DISPLAYS HELP FLORIDA SALES
To effectively promote Florida’s spring bounty, retailers recommend large displays. “Building displays that are abundant and overflowing with fresh Florida grown products is a staple for both retailer and customers,” says Brous. “The Florida spring harvest reflects a significant portion of our overall sales and merchandising during this timeline.”
Display size is important, particularly during the height of Florida’s spring season. “Florida retailers should consider larger displays denoting Fresh from Florida for peak of season items,” says Alderman. “Use visual elements and copy that inspires consumers to think about cooking and consuming these items during springtime occasions and outdoors.”
Wishnatzki agrees, saying, “A large, well-maintained and rotated display is an easy way to draw the consumer in. If retailers can allot for more shelf space to feature Florida blueberries, it will help movement. Showcasing more product and highlighting point-of-sale gets the message across that domestic Florida blueberries are plentiful and in-season.”
Signage is critical for some items, particularly tropicals, which many shoppers may not be familiar with. Ostlund recommends signage providing at least one way to enjoy the fruit, along with photos of whole and sliced fruit. She says retailers should erect spring-themed displays. “Grilling displays are key, and tropical fruit is great grilled, whether in kabobs or next to the night’s entrée,” says Ostlund.
MERCHANDISING FOR SUCCESS
For sweet corn, retailers should carefully consider how they merchandise the product, which is available in yellow, white and bicolor varieties, says Ted Wanless, chief operating officer of SM Jones & Co., Inc., a Belle Glade, FL-based grower-shipper of sweet corn. “Retailers can benefit by effectively merchandising sweet corn in full, fresh and refrigerated displays,” he says. “Those are the types which will produce the most movement and sales.”
Cross-merchandising is important to increase spring produce sales. “Provide consumers with ideas of how to use produce for seasonally relevant events or holidays,” says Alderman. “Think spring grilling with sweet corn and tin foil, or salsa recipes that include celery. Cross-promotion increases sales significantly.”
Cross-merchandising Florida sweet corn with other items, such as in the meat department, is one of the best ways to increase sales, notes Wanless. Feature corn with steaks, hot dogs and other meats. Display butter squares with refrigerated bulk displays. Corn skewers and/or grilling displays also should prominently feature fresh Florida sweet corn, he says.
Along with sampling, consider displays important to sales. “Besides a well-maintained display case, point-of-sale displays are always an eye-catching way to grab the consumer’s attention,” says Wishnatzki. “It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate. Simple and clean are the key. Consumers these days are focused on where their produce comes from. If you show a picture of the grower with their family, it is a feel-good moment for the consumer.”
Retailers shouldn’t forget ethnic groups, including Latinos, who purchase a lot of citrus. “Our biggest consumer of bagged citrus is Latinos,” says DLF’s Kiger. “The retailers that have heavy traffic with the Latino population are the ones that really do the job in Florida with bagged oranges. They like the juice and the flavor. It’s why they buy, and why retailers get repeat sales.”
PROMOTIONS SPUR SALES
Retailers appreciate the impact of the Fresh from Florida program. “Fresh from Florida is synonymous with fresh, high-quality produce, locally grown,” says Publix’s Brous. “This program provides us with a ‘stamp of approval,’ so to speak, that tells our customers it’s time to buy fresh fruits and vegetables from Florida.”
Florida’s reputation remains strong. With K-VA-T stores close to the Bristol (TN) Speedway, the chain promotes Fresh from Florida in a NASCAR racing promotion. Fresh from Florida supports early sweet corn ads sponsoring April’s Food City 500. “We like to tie-in promos around that in April,” says Keith Cox, produce category manager with K-VA-T Food Stores, Inc., which is based in Abingdon, VA. “The first thing that comes to mind when you think of Florida spring merchandising is sweet corn, of course. That’s when some of your best corn of the year will come out of Florida.”
Brooks develops promotions to move new fruit in stores. “As most of the country pulls itself out of a blistering winter, retailers’ customers will be eager to see displays centering around warmer activities,” says Ostlund. “So, don’t wait for Memorial Day to have a grilling display. Spring salad displays should star the gorgeous fruit of the season. Add a spark to that display with the wild shapes of tropical fruits.”
Florida citrus helps encourage repeat purchases. “Citrus is a good promotable item for retailers,” says Kiger. “During the spring, it’s at its peak flavor. The flavor and the aroma will keep the consumers coming back and will help retailers sell and merchandise more produce.”
Through 84 retail partnerships, FDACS’ Fresh from Florida promotion program last year promoted 43 Florida commodities in more than 11,000 stores in 26 states. “The Fresh from Florida brand continues to be recognized worldwide through domestic and international retail partnerships and targeted consumer outreach campaigns,” says Lee. “Our promotions are tailored for each retailer in order to provide maximum results for both the retailer and our Florida producers.” Some of the agency’s springtime promotions involve retail circular advertising, in-store sampling events, point of sale materials, aggressive social media campaigns, as well as commodity-specific programs with peaches and sweet corn.
“Fresh from Florida promotions provide opportunities for promotions state and locally,” says Alderman. “The services of Fresh from Florida will provide retailers with information to educate produce department managers to better equip them for sales.” Additionally, grower-shippers are more marketing savvy. “Shippers and marketers have become more knowledgeable about retailers’ needs and provide support through in-store demos, tastings, sponsoring and cooking,” he says. “The focus was previously more business-to-business in the marketing approach, but now marketing has expanded into driving demand and consumption with innovative product development, branding and social media.”