Getting More Splash From Berries

Originally printed in the March 2019 issue of Produce Business.

With an abundance of selling points, the ever-growing category remains robust.

What’s not to love about berries? They’re colorful, super healthy, bursting with flavor and their versatility allows them to be used in all sorts of meals and snacks.

Indeed, thanks to the foodie trend, people are discovering countless ways to showcase berries beyond their common uses as part of breakfast, in baked goods or as a snack.

“Fresh berries continue to be the top-selling produce item in grocery stores,” says Frances Dillard, senior director, brand and product marketing, for Driscoll’s, based in Watsonville, CA. “We see shoppers seeking our product and willing to pay premium for the exceptional flavor experience.”

Despite their immense popularity, berry sales can benefit from creative marketing. Supermarket produce sections can do themselves, and their customers, a big favor with smart displays and promotional tips that can boost sales all year long.

SMART Merchandising

Because there are quite a few delicious and popular berries to offer customers — and because they can be used in myriad ways — promotional opportunities abound.

According to Christine Christian, senior vice president of the California Strawberry Commission, based in Watsonville, CA, two-thirds of strawberry consumers buy them frequently — once to three times a week, and smart promotions can keep those sales growing.

“Retailers can maximize sales by maintaining large strawberry displays in primary position from spring all the way through summer, even as summer seasonal fruits enter the market,” she says. “Add secondary displays in dairy, bakery and at checkout during holidays for incremental impulse sales.”

“The trend among those looking to capture additional sales has been toward adding refrigerated displays both inside the produce department and in other sections of the store to take advantage of cross-merchandising opportunities.”

— Victoria De Bruin, U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council

Cindy Jewell, vice president of marketing for California Giant Berry Farms, headquartered in Watsonville, CA, says Giant works with trading partners in various ways.

“Each chain has differing philosophies and demographics that shop their stores, so as a supplier we must be flexible in our offerings and understand our customer needs to ensure we develop programs that are beneficial to them, to us and ultimately provide the shopper with the best experience and value,” she says. “Some chains with an everyday-low-price philosophy prefer ads and price-based solutions, where others are focused on quality and the in-store experience. We want to make sure we work closely with our partners to keep the shopper in mind and build brand loyalty for both our brand and the trading partner for repeat purchases.”

Perfect Pairings

Victoria De Bruin, marketing manager of the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, says consumers should be presented with a one-stop area that pairs blueberries with seasonal staples and other items, such as snack-sized plastic ware for on-the-go snacking; Mason jars for jam and chutney (and even ribbons and gift wrapping at holiday time); boxed pie crust, cinnamon and other items used to make pies.

“They’re great with balsamic and Mascarpone, Brie, or goat cheese on crostini,” says De Bruin. “Beyond the food pairings for more indulgent weeks, showcase options for when your shoppers are in resolution mode, whether that’s New Year’s or leading up to summer.”

She adds blueberries go well with such flavors as lemon, mint, rosemary, coconut and banana. Blueberries also are perfect for healthy yogurts, smoothies, oatmeal and cereal. Some major chains have added rolling refrigerated cases as secondary displays for berries, which increases space allocation, she says.

“The trend among those looking to capture additional sales has been toward adding refrigerated displays both inside the produce department and in other sections of the store to take advantage of cross-merchandising opportunities,” says De Bruin.

Springing Into Berry Season

Spring is the time of renewal, and that applies to berries as well, since it’s also the time of year when berry sales start to increase.

“Each year, Easter tends to be the biggest holiday associated with the beginning of berry season even though we are year-round producers,” says Jewell, noting that’s due in large part to perception, as consumers are looking to switch from winter-style eating.

“Berries are a sure sign of spring and bring life to the produce department as the days get longer and nights get warmer,” she says. “Mother’s Day, Memorial Day and July 4 are also big berry holidays at retail and in the produce department. All of these holidays are perfect for any of the four berries.”

It’s Always Time For Berries

Spring offers multiple opportunities to showcase blueberries, according to De Bruin. She says blueberries are a perfect fit for brunches on Easter, Mother’s Day, and for baby and wedding showers.

Michelle Deleissegues, marketing director for Red Blossom, headquartered in Los Olivos, CA, notes there are additional ways to promote berries outside of the usual times.

“Of course, there’s high demand for berries during holidays like Valentine’s Day and Easter, but we encourage retailers to think out of the box,” she says. “Late summer and early fall can have some very nice, late season production; back-to-school can be a fun time to promote berries. Cinco de Mayo is yet another opportunity by promoting strawberries for margaritas and various berries for salsa. Berries are versatile, delicious and an easy sell throughout the year.

Dillard says spring usually signals the start of high-volume sales, and also says Driscoll’s is particularly excited about blackberries this year.

Christian of the California Strawberry Commission notes spring and summer are ideal times to promote strawberries but reminds retailers that produce departments can keep sales steady throughout these seasons, especially around holidays from Easter to Labor Day.

“Retailers can avoid swings in sales revenue by keeping strawberries on ad the week before, week of, and week after a major holiday,” she says.

A Star In Savory Dishes

Cooking shows and websites devoted to culinary discoveries are inspiring consumers to try new ways to cook with berries.

“Consumers are learning about the versatility of berries and using them in new and creative ways,” says Deleissegues. “In recent years, the health industry has added some great options that are here to stay, like agua frescas and infused waters; smoothie bowls and other one-meal-bowls that often use berries as a key component. Also, the craft cocktail trend has professional and home mixologists using fresh berries in many drinks.”

Driscoll’s promotes berries by providing recipes for a variety of dishes on its website.

“All recipes have been tested with our internal culinary team,” says Dillard. “Visitors are looking for simple, easy-to-make recipes that showcase the berry themselves. Each berry has a top recipe, from strawberry shortcake to blackberry mojitos.”

De Bruin notes the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council’s 2017 study indicates consumers are experimenting with blueberries, as well.

“This is contributing to blueberries’ presence in more savory dishes that are decidedly out of the norm — they’re in baked goods and in parfaits, but they’re also in cocktails and meat glazes,” says De Bruin. “This type of experimentation is a result of today’s foodie culture.”

Those dishes include barbecue ribs and sauces, as compotes for meats and in dressings, grain bowls and salads.

“The Blueberry Council’s promotional efforts are intended to continue driving traditional uses and experimentation beyond what we’re already seeing,” says De Bruin.

She notes between 2013 and 2017, there was a 29-percent increase in consumers using fresh blueberries in savory dishes.

“Blueberries add a sweet-tart flavor that complement savory sauces and dishes well.”

When it comes to strawberries, Christian says shoppers are finding creative ways to get more strawberries into their daily diets.

“Snacks now supply a quarter of the daily calories consumed by Americans,” she says. “Our Get Snacking campaign reaches consumers throughout the year with giveaways, new recipes and inspiration for snacking on strawberries.”

You could say that promoting berries is smart — berry smart.