Heat Up Holiday Produce Sales

Chocolate Covered StrawberriesPhoto Courtesy of Florida Strawberry Association

The succession of special occasion eating events during the winter months promises strong sales for stores that plan and promote.

Babe Farms Produce

Photo Courtesy of Babé Farms

Retailers have an enormous opportunity to promote a variety of winter produce during the holidays and events from December through February.

“Consumers have come to expect an ample variety of produce during the holidays,” says Michael Warren, president of Central American Produce/CAPCO Farms in Pompano Beach, FL. “Wintertime is a great time to offer colorful produce for holiday menus.”

Keith Cox, produce category manager at K-VA-T Food Stores in Abingdon, VA, with 130 stores, sees the winter months as a time people spend indoors preparing meals. “Therefore, shopping will increase with bigger basket sizes or more frequent shopping trips,” he says. “This is the time to provide the right items to complement winter cooking.”

Even in winter, notes Ande Manos, marketing director for Babé Farms in Santa Maria, CA, the sun never sets on the produce aisle. “Create a vibrant, fresh produce display utilizing a bright array of winter root vegetables such as red, gold and stripe beets, an assortment of colored carrots, turnips, kohlrabi and even specialty radishes,” she says. “Winter crops, including colorful cauliflower, Romanesco and the Honey Cone cabbage, make great additions to grab customers’ attention.”

Cox reports bagged and loose citrus play a huge role in sales and profits during this time. Retailers can merchandise an abundance of popular winter options ranging from delicate herbs to sweet fruit to surprises in potatoes.

Wayne E. Bailey Potatoes

Photo Courtesy of Wayne E. Bailey Produce Co.

“During the winter months, especially around Thanksgiving and Christmas, fresh herbs represent a huge sales lift,” says Chris Wada, marketing manager for North Shore Living Herbs & Greens in Palm Desert, CA.

Sweet potatoes, considered a holiday staple, now offer more than just bulk product.

“With variety, stores have more chance to merchandise in different ways and take greater advantage of winter opportunities,” says George G. Wooten, president of Wayne E. Bailey Produce Co. in Chadbourn, NC.

Marketers stress the importance of good merchandising during this period.

“We find first-rate in-store merchandising is the key to success,” says Adam Cooper, vice president of marketing at The Wonderful Company in Los Angeles. “At this time of the year people are shopping more and stores can have a lot of fun merchandising. It is important for retailers to align what they are doing in-store to how we’re building the brand outside the store with consumer marketing.”

Success Starts Early

Success in winter merchandising starts with getting the whole store involved and planning early, according to Richard Stiles, director of produce for Redner’s Markets, a Reading, PA-chain with 44 markets and 13 quick shoppes in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware. “You need to be on the same page with what grocery, meat, bakery and deli are doing,” he says. “You usually want to plan a minimum of three to four weeks ahead of time to get things set up for your website and coordinate with suppliers.”

Harbortown Market, an independent gourmet grocery in Detroit, starts holiday promotion planning in late October/early November. “We usually have a meeting with the whole store, including deli, produce and grocery,” says Louie Attisha, owner. “We talk about what we’ll put on ad, when we’ll do it and what specifically we’ll do. It’s important to have things coordinated and ready.”

Cooper encourages customers to plan consistently for the entire winter season. “Planning for November and December naturally leads into January, February and March,” he says. “Retailers can look to segue from one to another. It creates a full story that is a natural progression.”

Seasoned marketers such as The Wonderful Company and Avocados from Mexico (AFM), Iriving, TX, provide ample support for retail promotions. “Retailers should contact their AFM regional directors for more information on our wide variety of promotional programs,” says Maggie Bezart Hall, vice president, trade and promotion for AFM.

December‭: ‬Big‭ ‬&‭ ‬Colorful

Christmas customers are inspired by attractive, abundant displays.

“Fruit displays must be full, fresh and well-priced to encourage customers to buy even more,” says Sam Marrogy, produce manager at Harbortown.

Cox references the old adage “Go Big or Go Home” rings true for items such as seedless Mandarin oranges. “You have to make a statement with big displays telling the customer this item is a value and will taste good,” he says. “The fruit category has always been huge during Christmas. Berries, citrus and apples sell very well with promotions.”

This coming season, The Wonderful Company is slating significant promotions to support retail. “We’ll have great POS materials and displays for retail to use,” says Cooper. “All our products are well associated with the holidays. For Halos, we offer a Christmas bin wrap, a Grove of Goodness tractor display and a Grove tree display to draw attention. Halos can be promoted as great stocking stuffers. Retailers can capitalize on our TV campaign for pistachios, Halos and POM Wonderful. We’ve seen success bringing these brands together in-store for a multi-product display.”

“A stunning display does no good unless consumers know how to apply the products being offered. Provide POS fliers and arrange in-store demos showcasing a variety of recipes catering to home chefs of all skill levels.”

— Ande Manos, Babé Farms

Winter strawberries are another exciting commodity to showcase during Christmas. Sue Harrell, marketing director for the Florida Strawberry Growers Association (FSGA) in Dover, FL, encourages stores to promote creativity with berries. “As consumers get more creative, get them thinking of other ways to enjoy fresh Florida strawberries. For instance, build displays with salad mix and assorted cheeses and nuts, or display photos of a beautiful strawberry dish.”

Babé Farms’ Manos recommends displaying a creative edible holiday arrangement to inspire consumers to incorporate vegetables and fruits into holiday décor. “Collaborate with the floral department to create festive holiday vegetable arrangements utilizing the contrasting shapes and colors of the season,” she says. “However, a stunning display does no good unless consumers know how to apply the products being offered. Provide POS fliers and arrange in-store demos showcasing a variety of recipes catering to home chefs of all skill levels.”

Depending on the store demographic, retailers should be sensitive to serve customers celebrating other December holidays.

Garrett Nishimori, marketing and sales manager for San Miguel Produce in Oxnard, CA, points out Kwanzaa — a week-long celebration honoring African heritage in African-American culture culminating in a feast and gift-giving — is another great merchandising time. “Collard greens are a traditional Kwanzaa dish,” he says.

January: The Diet Season

As the ball drops in Times Square this year, The Wonderful Company may visibly kick off resolutions to eat healthy. “We have one of the big billboards under where the ball drops featuring our products,” says Cooper.

Produce fits perfectly into New Year’s resolutions revolving around health and diet. Wooten relays sweet potatoes are a great product to promote to health-conscious customers. “Retail can focus on two main things with respect to sweet potatoes. One, it is a low glycemic product and doesn’t spike your blood sugar. Two, it gives all the other benefits of fiber and a complex carbohydrate. Sweet potatoes can also be eaten raw or juiced — something retailers can really promote for health and nutrition diets.”

San Miguel Produce’s Nishimori says many products from the winter holidays carry over into the January diet season. “Especially versatile commodities such as kale can be used in fresh salads, smoothies and juices during the diet season.”

Cooper reports POM Wonderful juice has its biggest month in January. “We put out a lot of marketing effort,” he says. “We also see Wonderful pistachios doing well at this time because people are looking for healthy snacking alternatives. When a store puts Wonderful Halos or pistachios in a secondary display by the checkout, it communicates the store promotes healthier choices.”

January Into February: Sports

Idaho Potato Display

Photo Courtesy of Idaho Potato Commission

Maximizing Super Bowl sales actually starts in January with playoff games; retailers are urged to take advantage of this part of football season as well as other events.

“Stores can extend Super Bowl excitement to include the playoffs and have three great weekends of sales,” says Harbortown’s Marrogy. “Also, they should look for key hockey or college football games pertinent to their clientele.”

Veggie trays, dips and fruit platters are easy add-ons to event sales and Central American’s Warren recommends promoting sliced watermelon as a side dish to barbeque. Redners’ Stiles says his stores sell a good volume of cut vegetables, dips and salsa for tailgating.

Marrogy reports Harbortown sees a different type of customer coming in to shop during game season. “These may be people who don’t cook a lot, such as younger men,” he says. “We placer greater emphasis on promoting fruit and vegetable trays and combining those with deli trays. Retailers should really cross-promote veggie and fruit trays with deli and meat items.”

Stores can capitalize on increased eating occasions during football season. “Tailgating and homegating are two of the most popular display ideas going on in the store,” says AFM’s Bezart Hall. “Eye-catching product displays and secondary display units can be found throughout departments. Avocados from Mexico messaging can be found not only in produce, but center aisle with our national tie-in with Heineken USA.”

The Idaho Potato Commission’s Bowen says consumers are becoming more creative and adventurous with tailgating events, something stores can join. “Tailgating parties are revolving less around simple hot wings and chip-and-dip recipes, and more around creative dishes,” she says. “We have an entire tailgating recipe section on our website where stores can find dishes such as Baked Idaho Potato Chips with Asian BBQ Mix or Loaded Crab Poutine. Placement of items used with potatoes, such as Hormel Real Bacon Bits, salad dressings and toppings increases sales.”

Promoting football and guacamole allows retailers to not only showcase fresh avocados but a whole host of complementary items. “Merchandise items such as tomatoes, onions, peppers, nuts, dried cranberries or fresh pico de gallo,” says Bezart Hall. “Other complementary items to feature in produce and center aisle promotions with avocados include beer, wine, tortilla chips, fresh tortillas, cups, plates, coolers and festive decorations.”

Stores can entice consumers with more sophisticated palates with other options.

“In terms of vegetable platters, substitute the standard broccoli, olives, carrots, etc., with colorful carrots, bright pink watermelon radishes and rainbow cauliflower florets — and pair with your favorite dip,” says Babé Farms’ Manos.

Suppliers suggest kale guacamole or strawberry avocado salsa as ways to change up the typical menu. Wooten mentions promoting sweet potatoes in place of chips. Game-themed promotions and displays encourage fun and draw shopper attention.

“Retailers can create eye-catching displays in the shape of a football field or provide fun, creative recipes via social media channels,” says Manos.

FSGA’s Harrell recommends stores promote dipping strawberries in chocolate and decorating like footballs. “Get creative with displays by cross-merchandising with chips, lemons, avocados and jalapeño peppers,” she says.

The Wonderful Company offers a multitude of in-store promotions for the 2018 season, and starting on Jan. 31, 2018, will reach more than 50 million people via a Facebook blast. “The blast will kick off a new campaign on digital media and in the store,” says Cooper. “We’ll have a lot of POS materials, including attractive sports bin wraps. And, we are teaming up with Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks and Clay Matthews of the Green Bay Packers for promotion with life-size standees.”

Stores are also encouraged not to overlook other sporting events such as the Winter Olympics or Winter X-Games. Marrogy reports Harbortown will be planning some specials for the Olympics. “Everybody likes to watch the Olympics and we can help encourage customers to make more of a social event out of it,” he says.

Redners’ Stiles mentions the value of playing up the health aspects during the Olympics. “Promoting smoothies and fresh juices could be a good tie-in,” he says.

February‭: ‬Love‭, ‬Health‭ ‬&‭ ‬New Year

Once Super Bowl excitement is over, stores can turn attention to opportunities in February, the first of which is Valentine’s Day.

“Valentines is all about chocolate and champagne,” says Harrell. “Place these items by strawberry displays and shoppers will have a great gift without going anywhere else. ”

Stiles says though Valentine’s Day is big for cut flower sales, Redner’s has success with chocolate-covered strawberries. “We also do a lot of cross-promotion of dinner ideas, such as filet mignon with asparagus, to encourage the romantic dinner.”

While potatoes might not be foremost in thought when planning for Valentine’s Day, suppliers suggest stores think otherwise. Idaho Potato Commission’s Bowen reports February is Idaho Potato Lover’s Month. “This is our annual celebration of America’s favorite tuber,” she says. “Our annual Potato Lover’s Month retail contest is a fantastic retail promotion for produce managers to be involved in.”

Sweet potatoes can also be incorporated for Valentine’s Day sales, suggests Wayne E. Bailey Produce’s Wooten. “Shoppers are usually looking for a nice protein for Valentine’s dinner, and sweet potatoes go really well with all proteins.”

Chinese New Year allows for ample produce promotion.

“Stir fry is a great item to promote for Chinese New Year,” says Wooten. “Chunked sweet potatoes go really well in stir fry and can be cross-merchandised with other produce items to make a good stir-fry basket.”

February is also American Heart Health Month linking well with themed displays promoting the health aspects of produce. The Wonderful Company executes promotion around the health aspects of pistachios and Halos. Bowen adds that Idaho potatoes are the only potatoes certified by the American Heart Association as a heart-healthy food, something retailers can promote.

Help Customers Cook

Winter conjures up an urge to cook, and stores can help customers amp up their menu.

“Stores can promote vegetables as customers cook more,” says Sam Marrogy, produce manager at Harbortown Market, an independent gourmet grocery in Detroit. “Sweet potatoes sell like crazy for Thanksgiving and Christmas.”

Winter cooking occasions also bode well for herbs.

“Our sales increase is a direct result of our retail partners’ increased pre-orders and in-store merchandising displays of fresh herb varieties complementing recipes for roasting turkeys and roasts,” says Chris Wada, marketing manager for North Shore Living Herbs + Greens in Palm Desert, CA. “The Top Three roasting varieties we grow individually or as a blend include rosemary, sage and thyme.”

According to Garrett Nishimori, marketing and sales manager for San Miguel Produce in Oxnard, CA, comfort cooking often includes dark leafy greens. “We see a large increase in demand for kale, collard, mustard greens and turnip greens during this season. Promoting larger pack sizes and multiple purchase of smaller pack sizes (for example 2 for $5) benefits sales.”

Richard Stiles, director of produce for Redner’s Markets, a Reading, PA-chain with 44 markets and 13 quick shoppes in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware, looks to increase ring by integrating multiple items into a traditional holiday recipe promotion. “We’ll have yams on sale, but offer a ‘buy 3 pounds of yams and get a free bag of marshmallows,’” says Stiles. “This stimulates multiple sales; we do the same thing for apples to make an apple pie or potatoes and onions for stew.”

Potatoes are among the most frequently purchased and largest volume items in the store, according to Jamie Bowen, marketing manager for the Idaho Potato Commission in Eagle, ID. “It is important to properly merchandise potatoes by making them clearly visible, merchandising all varieties in one location, and clearly marketing pricing and promotions,” she says. “Consumers will buy multiple varieties of potatoes if they are clearly visible.”

Options in staple items present potential as cooking habits evolve.

“Retailers can market convenience presentations to customers who want to bring something from past traditions, but don’t want to go through the work of making it traditionally,” says George G. Wooten, president of Wayne E. Bailey Produce Co. in Chadbourn, NC. “Steamers and petite steamables shouldn’t be overlooked in lieu of only offering bulk. The petites could be that unique, easy dish someone takes to a holiday party or dinner.”

Irving, TX-based Avocados From Mexico’s Season’s Eatings campaign capitalizes on family gatherings to serve avocado. “We provide creative ideas to tie in avocados in festive appetizer dishes to be used during holiday entertaining occasions,” says Maggie Bezart Hall, vice president, trade and promotion. “This year’s promotion also adds breakfast as an additional theme in the produce department.”