Effective Fruit Tie-In Merchandising

Apples DisplayPhoto courtesy of Litehouse Foods

Smart pairings can increase rings for the produce department.

Marzetti Apples

Photo Courtesy of Marzetti

Tie-ins can help move fruit. Whether crepes, dips, pie shells, shortcake or glazes, complementary products help spark consumer creativity and boost impulse buying. If promoted properly, fruit tie-ins can be used as a tool to help boost produce sales, especially sales that might not ordinarily occur without them. For example, chocolate dipped wafers call for the purchase of strawberries. A consumer may not have come to the store to buy strawberries, but seeing a demo or signage of strawberries incorporating the wafers might prompt the consumer to buy both.

Most retailers don’t use tie-ins effectively. Many tie-ins are simply placed haphazardly throughout the department, and shipper racks placed on the side of the department make consumers hunt for what they want. But as the importance of using produce as a tool to differentiate one store from its competitors becomes greater, retailers should work to maintain a fresh and inviting image of the produce department, and that includes smartly positioned tie-ins.

A Win-Win

Carrying non-produce, companion items in the produce department offers many benefits. “For one, displaying complementary products together with a particular fruit earns additional revenue for the store,” says Samantha McCaul, marketing manager for Concord Foods LLC, in Brockton, MA. “Non-produce companion items also add interest and variety to the produce department, and they offer great convenience to customers. Retailers benefit too because companion items have a long shelf life with little or no shrink, and they sell at higher margins than fresh fruit.”

“For us, tie-ins offer all pros,” says Chad Hartman, director of marketing for Tropical Foods in Charlotte, NC. “Being able to complement our items with fresh fruit is a win-win. Placing our Dip & Devour meltable dips by the strawberries saves customers the time to find each item and grows the average ticket for the store with the possible impulse sale.” Hartman adds that Dip & Devour is one of its best-selling items in produce departments; he describes the product as the perfect complement to both fresh and dried fruit.

Karen Caplan, president and chief executive of Los Alamitos, CA-based Frieda’s Specialty Produce, also points out numerous benefits to the store, including increasing the average shopping ring size as shoppers buy multiple items instead of just one. “You can boost customer satisfaction even more if you provide a recipe suggestion and a meal solution to the shopper.”

Caplan stresses the importance of strategic planning so the produce department doesn’t appear cluttered with too many non-produce items. “Consumers demand complementary items, but with so many fresh produce varieties requiring space, retailers may make the decision to move non-fresh items out of produce and into a specialty department.” That makes them harder to find and less likely to stimulate an impulse buy.

Location, Location, Location

The best place for companion items is the most obvious — right next to their fruit partner rather than on an end cap or in a different section of the department. Hartman wants Tropical’s products to be right next to, above or below the fruit they complement the best. For example, Dip & Devour Chocolate Melts by strawberries and Peanut Butter Melts by bananas. “As a complementary and impulse item, the tie-in items may look more exciting than the fruit,” says Hartman.

He notes “the appeal of dipping something in chocolate may sound so good that the consumer needs to buy the fruit, and the chocolate. And the most successful way to promote a tie–in is a temporary price reduction on the shelf for both the fruit and the complementary item.”

“We’ve been positioning our crepes right next to strawberries for the past 20 years,” says Robert Schueller, public relations director for Melissa’s Produce, Los Angeles. “It gets people to eat more produce, which is our goal. Shoppers will see more strawberries now than at any other time of the year.”

Litehouse Foods recommends placement of its fruit dips near strawberries and blueberries to catch the consumers’ attention as they are picking out their fruit. Retailers also place Litehouse dips next to fresh-cut fruit in their produce set to provide consumers with a quick, grab-and-go snack solution.

“We offer our Litehouse caramel dip in eye-catching shippers, which allow retailers to place them next to apples in their produce department,” says Alison Kellogg, brand manager, Sandpoint, ID. “As fall approaches, many produce managers like to build displays using our caramel and apples. This helps create excitement within the produce department and draws a lot of consumer attention, leading to impulse purchases.”

Concord Foods looks for opportunities to position its products near high-volume fruits, such as bananas and avocados. “Products we might place next to these fruits include our Chiquita Banana Bread Mix, Concord’s Banana Smoothie Mix and Concord’s Guacamole Mix,” says McCaul.

The Berry Best

Tie-ins have a natural partnership with berries — strawberries, in particular. Schueller notes crepes have taken the place of shortcake and tart shells as a healthier companion. Melissa’s introduced dessert sauces nearly a decade ago, offering produce directors a second complementary product for their berry display.

Despite today’s focus on health, whipped cream remains a partner of choice for berries. “People associate crepes with berries and cream, so it’s important to display both crepes and cream near the berries to help stimulate impulse sales,” says Caplan.

Sell To The Season

Fruit tie-ins traditionally correlate with a fruit’s season. “Sales of our Litehouse fruit dips, particularly Opadipity’s Creamy Cheesecake Greek Yogurt Dip, begin to peak around Valentine’s Day and continue throughout summer as people enjoy family gatherings and barbecue season,” says Kellogg. “In contrast, our Litehouse Caramel Dip sees steep peaks in the fall, as the weather starts to turn and consumers look for a sweet treat to warm them up. “

Crepes are particularly popular around Mother’s Day and Easter, when fresh berries are at the peak of season. They also sell during Valentine’s Day and peak during New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

“But with the growing popularity of brunches, healthy snacking and dessert for breakfast, our convenient ready-to-eat crepes are more popular than ever,” says Caplan, who claims her company was the first to introduce crepes to the produce department in 1985. “To the Millennial moms who don’t have a lot of time, the crepes are a perfect solution to feed the family an easy, healthy, satisfying snack.”

Year-round availability of many fruits, including berries, has smoothed out the seasonality of companion products. “Our non-fruit items — lemon and lime juice, guacamole, salsa mixes and smoothie mixes — are less dependent on seasonality and tend to sell well throughout the year,” says Concord’s McCaul. “One exception is our apple-related products, such as Caramel Dip, Caramel Apple Wrap and Candy Apple Kits, which are primarily marketed in the fall during peak apple season.”

Less Common Pairings

What’s one of the best ways to sell less common fruit to shoppers? Offer recipes and complementary products. Melissa’s uses the recipe section of its website to raise awareness of specialty items, offering recipes for such dishes as crepes made with mangosteen.

Produce directors can capture additional sales by thinking beyond sweet. Shelf-stable packaged tofu positioned next to bananas and non-refrigerated fruit, and accompanied by smoothie recipes, can boost sales of both. In markets catering to Hispanic shoppers, Tajín, a seasoning made from chili pepper, lime and salt, can help sell mangos, melons and pears.

How-To Signage / Demos Help

Shoppers respond to inspiration — on-package recipes, recipe cards and tastings. POS displays and signage catch the shopper’s eye and serve as a reminder for pairings. Concord promotes using recipes, coupons and sampling, particularly if a store or branded produce item is running a special promotion. Outside of the store, Concord relies heavily on social media, namely, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and Instagram.

“We occasionally have clients who sample or demo our crepes, particularly for a new store opening or special event,” says Caplan. “A usual crepe demo also features sliced berries, whipped cream and chocolate spread.”

Tropical Foods encourages sampling and demos to introduce customers to its products. “We have some local staff that do demos,” says Hartman. “We also hire demonstrators, and our brokers will occasionally sample at big store events.” Tropical also promotes heavily on social media and creates demo videos specific to its products, some of which have their own website.

“We’ve found demos to be incredibly valuable,” says Litehouse’s Kellogg. “It is important to allow consumers the opportunity to experience products that are new brands as well as new concepts they are not yet familiar with. Demos are great for allowing people to try products without a commitment.” Litehouse also uses shelf talkers and on-pack stickers, connects with consumers through social media and partners with retailers in ads.

Co-Branded Promos

Generic tie-ins such as crepes and strawberries make sense, and retailers can leverage marketing dollars even more by partnering with branded items. “Our most successful tie-ins are with fresh produce brands,” says McCaul. “We’ve had a successful coupon promotion with our Cranberry Bread Mix and fresh Ocean Spray Cranberries. We’ve also run some very successful digital promotions with our Blueberry Muffin Mix and California Giant berries, among others.”

“I think produce managers understand the value of non-produce tie-ins,” says Hartman. “In my experience, departments will take complementary products because they prefer to get the ring in their department. They also understand that tie-ins will increase overall sales.”