Heat up Sales With Savvy Fall Merchandising

Pear DisplayPhoto Courtesy Of Pear Bureau Northwest

Play up seasonality and the start of the holidays.

Seasonality comes to life especially in the fall when produce departments across the nation undergo major resets. New crop apples and pears as well as abundant domestic grapes and kiwi move up front. Limited supplies of fresh cranberries, hard squash and pumpkins take center stage in displays.

Beets and Brussels Skillets

Photo Courtesy of Love Beets

Year-round favorites such as bell peppers, beets and Brussels sprouts take on renewed interest in this season of cooking, eating and holiday meals. Savvy retailers who employ a number of creative merchandising techniques can assure a rise in produce sales in the fall.

“In early September, we set up the produce department in one of our stores with examples of how we want to approach the holidays like Halloween and Thanksgiving,” says Randy Bohaty, produce director at B&R Stores, an 18-store chain based in Lincoln, NE, that operates under the Russ’s Markets, Super Saver, Apple Market and Save Best Foods banners.

“This holiday show is a great way to collectively share ideas. Plus, it definitely helps by giving newer managers some thoughts and serves as a good refresh for veteran managers.”

1. Apples

Apples, as well as pears and grapes, are featured for back-to-school promotions in September at the 70 independent grocers that are part of Northwest Grocers, in Tukwila, WA, and operate under banners such as Thriftway, Payless Foods, Red Apple Markets and IGA Markets.

“Apples are projected to be up in volume around 6 percent this fall,” says Bruce Bolton, category manager at Robinson Fresh, the Eden Prairie, MN-

Stemilt Growers, in Wenatchee, WA, offers a new pop-up display unit that holds one case of its kid-sized bagged Lil Snapper apples. This unit can be

displayed on endcaps, high-traffic lanes or in other departments for back-to-school promotions throughout the month of September.

“In October, we hit all the new varieties of apples like Aurora and Opal. Some stores will do an apple fest and others promote apples as part of a fall harvest sale. Either way, we try to promote a different apple each week for a month and a half or two months until the citrus hits,” says Northwest Grocers’ Jason Kazmirski, director produce/floral merchandiser.

Stemilt introduces its new ‘We Have an Apple for That’ merchandising program this fall.

“This bin promotion features one of the newer apple varieties at a time and helps to develop consumers’ palates for these varieties. The program comes Stemilt Lil' Snapperswith point-of-sale (POS) cards that give more information about the variety. Retailers can use this to create an ‘Apple of the Month’ program in their stores,” says Roger Pepperl, marketing director.

Concord Foods, in Brockton, MA, launches its single-serve Simply Concord Caramel dip this fall, which comes in six 1.8-ounce tubettes to a sleeve. These are ideal for back-to-school promotions, while 24-count shipper displays of 14.2-ounce tubs of this dip are perfect for Halloween. The dip’s selling point is that it’s non-GMO and has no high fructose corn syrup or artificial colors, flavors or preservatives.

“Retailers can set up fun attention getting Halloween displays with apples and caramel. One idea is to include items like gummy bears, chopped nuts and other ingredients to decorate caramel apples. This encourages impulse and additional buys.”

— Samantha McCaul, Concord Foods

“Retailers can set up fun attention-getting Halloween displays with apples and caramel,” says Samantha McCaul, marketing manager. “One idea is to include items like gummy bears, chopped nuts and other ingredients to decorate caramel apples. This encourages impulse and additional buys.”

Shoppers’ thoughts turn to cooking applications for apples in November in the run up to Thanksgiving, says David Williams, vice president of sales and marketing at Fowler Farms, in Wolcott, NY. “We have started working with a company called Farm Stand Living that creates customized recipes. Since tearpads are less popular these days and execution is difficult, we can deliver these digitally on multiple platforms such as our and our retail customer’s websites as well as social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.”

2. Pears

“Throughout the fall, we’ll move the more seasonally available varieties of pears in and out of displays or highlight them in an inset display to catch customer’s attention,” says B&R Store’s Bohaty.

Bartlett and Starkrimson pears harvest during August and make good back-to-school promotions, according to Stemilt Grower’s Pepperl. “By late September and early October, Bosc and Concord become available and Anjou’s start. It’s possible by then to have five varieties on ad and in the display. By mid- to late-October, all 10 varieties are available including Bosc, Comice, Concorde, Forelle and Seckel. Apples usually dominate fall ads, but a good rule of thumb is if apples are on ad for three weeks of the month, put pears on ad the fourth.”

The Pear Bureau Northwest, based in Milwaukie, OR, will work with retail customers, regional merchandising managers and other food companies to create customized turn-key “Pear Up” cross-promotions than can be implemented in-store in September and October.

“The fall is a time when people are busy and appreciate simple two-and-three ingredient recipes,” says Kathy Stephenson, marketing communications director at the Pear Bureau Northwest. “Pears are excellent ingredients and pair well with yogurt, cheese, nut butters and salads. For example, we worked with Dole last year and developed a salad using pears.

“The promotion included a recipe and cents off coupon sent through social media channels. For holidays like Thanksgiving, we have a small cardboard wheel that retailers can offer at point-of-sale that shows shoppers what varieties of pears pair best with different wines and cheeses.”

3‭. ‬Grapes

The best time to promote grapes is September, according to John Pandol, director of special projects for Pandol Bros., in Delano, CA. “The summer sets are over, and the fall products like persimmons, pomegranates and pumpkins aren’t ready yet. Grapes out of the San Joaquin Valley are in month three of five of harvest, right in the middle.

“I really like a back-to-school theme,” says Pandol. “Other holidays are celebrated and over, but school lasts nine months. Instead of New Year’s resolutions, encourage new school year resolutions such as healthier school and after-school snacks like grapes.”

Robinson Fresh, which markets its grapes under the Welch’s banner, sponsors retail contests that result in creative in-store displays that promote healthy lunch box packing and snacking. To help in building eye-catching displays, the company offers specially designed back-to-school bags for its grapes.

“One customer experienced a nearly 30 percent lift in sales each of the past two years by participating in these contests,” says Bolton.

Tailgaiting at football games is fashionable in October. “This is when we put grapes, as well as avocados, on ad. Both are great snacks and good tonnage items too,” says Northwest Grocer’s Kazmirski.

Cross-promote holiday-themed display bins of grapes in the cheese or wine department or at the store’s front end during peak customer hours, recommends Nick Dulcich, co-owner and president of Sunlight International Sales, in Delano, CA, which promotes its Harvest Hobgoblin grapes in the fall. “These need to be well maintained and kept stocked to enhance sales.”

4‭. ‬Kiwi

The autumn kiwifruit forecast is excellent, according to Steve Woodyear-Smith, executive category director of tropicals for The Oppenheimer Group, headquartered in Vancouver, Canada. “We’ll have supplies of Zespri green and SunGold kiwifruit on hand for promotions through October and possibly longer, with California green and Italian green and gold coming into season in September. Most notably, we’ll have about twice the volume of the new, refreshingly-sweet SunGold kiwifruit this year, and despite the increase we remain in a ‘demand exceeds’ situation.”

Kiwifruit merchandise well as a back-to-school snack in September. “Promote 1-pound kiwifruit clamshells for back-to-school. Each package contains five to six pieces of fruit, perfect for adding to a school lunch each day of the week,” says Jason Bushong, division manager of the Wenatchee, WA, sales office of the Giumarra Companies, headquartered in Los Angeles.

“Packaged kiwifruit has fuelled impressive growth in the category. It encourages volume consumption while simultaneously offering a convenient grab-and-go option.”

Additionally, “we custom-branded pink spifes (spoon/knife combination) for October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month that we can include as a free value-add for consumers during a demo or in packaging,” says Bushong.

For Halloween, “display a few kiwis carved like mini jack-o-lanterns. Or, place pouch bags or a shipper unit in the candy aisle. Then for Thanksgiving, kiwifruit adds tang to relishes, sauces, salsas, and color to desserts. We suggest cross-merchandising with traditional holiday ingredients and offering a few easy serving suggestions,” says Oppenheimer’s Woodyear-Smith.

5‭. ‬Cranberries

Fresh cranberries are a must-have during October and November in retailers that are part of Northwest Grocers, says Kazmirski.

“We start harvesting cranberries in mid-September,” says Bob Wilson, managing director of The Cranberry Network and owner of Cranberry Partners, in Wisconsin Rapids, WI. “Resist the temptation for unrefrigerated freestanding displays since this isn’t peak selling time. Start price promotions in early November to build excitement for the major cranberry-buying holiday, Thanksgiving.”

The best promotional time for fresh cranberries is the two weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. “More than 70 percent of customers use cranberries for sauce in their holiday meal, so tie-ins and merchandising along with turkey, stuffing, gravy, fresh potatoes and carrots are effective,” says Barry Botelho, customer lead of fresh fruit for Ocean Spray Cranberries, headquartered in Lakeville-Middleboro, MA.

“More than 50 percent of consumers use fresh for desserts, so activate adjacencies with holiday dessert items too.”

6‭. ‬Squash

Pumpkins & Squash

Pumpkin and squash can serve as colorful in-store displays for the fall and encourage shoppers to try new recipes for the holidays.

“The diversity of hard squash and gourds really augment displays this time of year,” says B&R Store’s Bohaty.

Butternut is the best-selling hard squash in the fall at Melissa’s/World Variety Produce, in Los Angeles. “Acorn, Kabocha and Spaghetti are other popular fall squash,” says Robert Schueller, director of public relations. “Due to small family sizes, and especially for the holidays, due to flavor and ease of preparation, we’re seeing greater interest in smaller squash, the kind that serve one to two people, such as the Gold Nugget, Delicata, Sweet Dumpling and Carnival.”

7‭. ‬Pumpkin

Pumpkins, in-store or on display, add a definitive fall feel to the produce department. “We start to ship pumpkins the first week in September and sales in our area are strongest from the second week right through October,” says John Carl, sales manager at Dan Schantz Farm & Greenhouses, in Zionsville, PA. “Don’t display pumpkins outside while it’s still warm, and keep the sun off of them.”

The trend now is to use pumpkins as décor with sophisticated rather than whimsical designs, according to Michele Youngquist, president of Bay Baby Produce, Inc./ AMF Farms, in Burlington, WA.

“Vibrant color long-stem ornamentals are elegant and a perfect size for a centerpiece. The silhouettes have black crows, cobwebs and half-moon designs that pop against the orange. Supermarkets with the best sell through set up store displays that show customers how to decorate with pumpkins at home.”

8‭. ‬Bell Peppers

Bell peppers are a prevalent backyard garden vegetable in 28 states until a frost hits in the fall. After that, supply is primarily out of California, the southeast U.S., and in greenhouses.

“Red is the No. 1 seller for us. The gap in sales between green and red is narrowing with yellow third and orange fourth,” says Mike Aiton, director of marketing for Prime Time International, in Coachella, CA.

“Mini sweet peppers, which are dominated by 1- and 2-pound bags, have really taken on and are well-liked by kids for snacking as well as holiday parties in crudité platters.”

Melissa’s/World Variety Produce will offer the new red-and-yellow Enjoya bell pepper through October this year. The pepper is sold in 3-pound packs.

“This pepper, developed in Holland, doesn’t have thick veins and is great for adding color to salads and cooked dishes,” says Schueller.

9‭. ‬Beets

Kale, Rainbow chard, Delicata squash, Chanterelle mushrooms and beets are all part of fall harvest offerings at Northwest Grocer retailers.

“Beets are definitely a growing category,” says Karen Caplan, president and chief executive officer of Frieda’s Inc., in Los Alamitos, CA. “We sell baby beets and gold-bunched beets.”

Sales of beets are especially good in the fall, because it’s a fit with the root vegetable theme, according to Natasha Shapiro, marketing manager for Bala Cynwyd, PA-based Love Beets, makers of several ready-to-eat packaged beet products.

“Recipes are huge,” says Shapiro. “We create our own and post one new recipe a week on our website. Examples that tie in well with a Thanksgiving theme are Beet & Sweet Potato Mash with Thyme, Beet & Sweet Potato Galette and Honey Glazed Beets & Brussels Sprouts with Blue Cheese and Walnuts.

“Merchandising ideas include cross-promoting beets with other ingredients in a recipe and doing demos along with handing out our 4-inch by 6-inch recipe cards with a photo of the dish on one side and ingredients and instructions on the back.”

10‭. ‬Brussels Sprouts

Brussels sprouts are a trending item, says B&R Store’s Bohaty. “In the fall, we expand the set and have a nice bulk display as well as bring in value-added items, such as sliced in shaved. In some stores, we’ll also bring in stalks during the holidays.”

The best promotional time is September to November, according to Diana McClean, director of marketing for Ocean Mist Farms, the Castroville, CA-headquartered grower, shipper and marketer of the microwavable Season & Steam Brussels sprouts line.

Value-added Brussels sprouts are growing faster than bulk. In fact, value-added Brussels sprouts shoppers are more likely to buy other cooking vegetables leading to larger basket sizes per trip — $97 basket size versus $78 average cooking vegetable basket size, according to Nielsen Perishables Group’s Fresh Facts Shopper Insights. A few basket affinity items of the value-added Brussels sprouts shopper are lemons, garlic, boneless chicken breasts and baby broccoli. Cross-merchandise near these items.

Freaky Fruits Promotions

Unique varieties of grapes, melon and tree fruit diminish by the end of September. In this space, retailers can merchandise seasonally available specialty fruits. That’s the thinking behind the Freaky Fruits promotion, the brainchild of Melissa’s/World Variety Produce, in Los Angeles, and one of the company’s fastest growing promotions.

This is a merchandising opportunity retailers such as Hy-Vee, a 240-store chain headquartered in West Des Moines, IA, have participated in with success. For example, the Freaky Fruit presentation in the Waseca, MN, store last year offered Kiwano melons, rambutans, pomegranates, Buddha’s hand, guavas, dragon fruit, jackfruit, Purple Passion fruit, Pepino melons, Red Cactus pear, strawberry papaya and coconuts. The display was dressed with decorative ghosts, skeletons and tombstones in keeping with the holiday theme. Meanwhile, the supermarket dietitian at the Fairmont, MN, location offered in-store tips about each specialty fruit, its nutrition and usage.

In addition, Tom Crall, Hy-Vee’s produce purchasing specialist, says, “We run the items in an ad to call them out each year. The ad showcases what we have to offer to our customers. They are surprised by what’s available when it is spotlighted in this promotion, especially when they maybe weren’t aware that we offered these items every day when they are in season.”

Approximately 1,500 supermarkets nationwide participated in the Freaky Fruit promotion last year, according to Robert Schueller, Melissa’s/World Variety Produce’s director of public relations. The company offers retailers themed recipe pads and point-of-sale signage to incorporate into displays.