Highlighting The Bulb

California Garlic BinPhoto Courtesy of Christopher Ranch

Garlic enjoys mainstream success, but retailers shouldn’t take it for granted.

The list of health benefits associated with eating garlic is long. It’s an antioxidant and can boost the immune system; it’s good for the heart and can help lower inflammation; some people even believe garlic rubbed on the skin repels mosquitos.

Regardless of its effectiveness as a bug deterrent, or fictional use as a vampire repellent, garlic has been used both medicinally and as a cooking ingredient across both the Mediterranean region and Asia for centuries.

While many consumers are aware of the health aspects of garlic, retailers run the risk that this versatile plant may get taken for granted if not properly merchandised. As simple as garlic is as an ingredient, and as easy as it is to cook with, so are the methods used to display and promote it in produce departments.

“I get daily Google news briefs on garlic,” says Jim Provost, president of I Love Produce, based in Kelton, PA. “Not a day goes by that there is not a feature story about garlic, including some of its health benefits. It would be very easy for retailers to point their consumers to some of this information.”

I Love Produce GarlicThe information concerning these benefits is indeed out there, as Michael Layous, sales and marketing representative for The Garlic Company, based in Bakersfield, CA, points out. “The media as a whole is definitely communicating the healthy aspects of garlic,” he says. “Garlic has cardiovascular benefits, and it can lower cholesterol and help to fight off the common cold or flu. On a more day-to-day level, garlic is a common substitute for consumers who are trying to eat less salt.”

“Garlic has many, many health attributes, and anything they [produce managers] do in that department to educate consumers on some of these benefits is of tremendous value,” says Louis Hymel, vice president of procurement and operations for Orlando, FL-based Spice World.

Methods Of Merchandising

Looks are everything when it comes to displaying garlic. It is perhaps the single biggest factor in getting bulbs and braids into shopping baskets. The bigger the display, the better, of course; but retail space is usually limited. Produce managers should focus on stocking a great-looking, clean product in whatever space is allotted.

“Cleanliness is probably the most important,” says Paul Auerbach, president of Maurice A. Auerbach, Inc. and the Auerpak Brand, based in Secaucus, NJ. “A bright, clean white is what really gets the consumers.”

While the appearance of individual bulbs is key for bulk displays, variety also grabs attention. Auerbach’s advice? “Make sure the display features several different types of garlic, such as elephant garlic, peeled garlic, and garlic braids. That bulk box of loose, fresh garlic is going to be the mainstay.”

“Cross-merchandising has always been a real attribute to increasing incremental sales,” says Hymel. “Not just for the garlic category, but to many of the other ingredients that go along with merchandising for different recipes. It’s always good to try and understand some of the cross-merchandising benefits. Whether it’s putting garlic around pasta or the bakery department with fresh bread, there are huge benefits.”

“Retailers seem to have garlic merchandising figured out pretty well now,” says Provost, who recognizes garlic’s ascent from a specialty product to a staple shopping list item. “I have seen retailers merchandise successfully in various locations in the produce department, including the onion section, the fresh tomato section, a stand-alone garlic center and even spread out, depending on the product in the category — fresh, peeled, organic or jarred garlic.”

Patsy S. Ross, marketing director for Christopher Ranch, headquartered in Gilroy, CA, has also seen produce managers have success with these display strategies. “Over the years I have seen two successful ways to merchandise garlic in the produce department,” she says. “One way is to have a garlic center.”

She suggests retailers use a rack or table to display all garlic items, from packaged and jarred to fresh bulk, and even dried varieties.

“Setting up a garlic center creates a one-stop shopping opportunity for consumers,” says Ross. “Another way is to merchandise with the tomatoes and the avocados. Think the Italian Flag. This display really highlights the cleanliness and brightness of the garlic, and helps it jump out at shoppers. This is a better approach than placing garlic displays along with the usual suspects. When garlic is merchandised with onions and potatoes, it gets a little camouflaged.”

Auerbach has seen garlic pair well in other departments, too. “In addition to being in produce, we’ve taken garlic, lemon, tomato and placed them in a round basket in the fish department — that works,” he says.

With so many items competing for the attention of busy shoppers, space comes at a premium. Auerbach recognizes garlic’s acceptance as a mainstream grocery item, but points out, “It’s still not peaches, it’s not apples, it’s not bananas — sometimes with these items [like garlic] you’re not just fighting for shelf space, you’re fighting for ad space.”

“In addition to being in produce, we’ve taklen garlic, lemon, tomato and placed them in a round basket in the fish department – that works”

— Paul Auerbach, Maurice A. Auerbach, Inc.

While this is certainly true, prudent produce managers know the value of giving garlic its space. “It’s a high-dollar item,” says Auerbach. “While I realize

The Garlic Company Products

Photo Courtesy of The Garlic Company

space is limited, the more types of garlic they can shelve, the better for the whole category.”

According to Layous at The Garlic Company, proper placement drives sales. “Some retailers develop stand-alone stands to display the different packs of non-refrigerated garlic, including individual bulk garlic, small bags of garlic and jarred product.”

Layous recommends retailers hang smaller-sized bags of whole bulbs next to pasta and display peeled garlic with fresh-cut vegetables. “Garlic is a popular ingredient for dips — think guacamole, salsas and hummus. Accordingly, retailers can take advantage of increased garlic sales opportunities for the Super Bowl, Cinco de Mayo and the Fourth of July. The garlic can be positioned closer to the entrance of the store, along with tomatoes, avocados, onions and tortilla chips. If shoppers aren’t already thinking about making guacamole or salsa, their brain will certainly be tempted.”

Domestic Versus Import

Country of origin matters to many customers. The “buy local” movement extends beyond cities and outside of state lines when certain commodities are unavailable closer to home. For the consumer in the Midwest, California is going to be as local as they can get for garlic. “We found most retailers and consumers that we talk with would prefer domestic garlic to imported garlic,” says Ross. She recommends signage that calls out the country of origin, as appearance alone may not be enough for the average consumer to differentiate.

Auerbach follows the garlic growing cycles around the world so consumers always have access to fresh product. “Right now I have garlic in-house from four countries of origin,” he says.

Auerbach knows retailer preference reflects the demands of customers. “Certain retail accounts have a preference for garlic grown in the United States,” he says. “Other accounts want product from certain countries and not others. Some accounts want seasonality, so they have new product available three times a year: the Californian, then the Argentinian and then the Mexican. It varies by retailers and price points.”

Sasha LoPresti, director of business development for the Bronx, NY-based distributor A. J. Trucco Inc., has noticed this preference as well. “We have garlic from Spain, Mexico, Argentina and California,” she says. “Domestic California is always preferred.”

According to Layous, domestic garlic sales increased in recent years due in part to the locally grown movement. While this certainly has appeal to many consumers, that isn’t the only reason for choosing U.S.-grown garlic.

“It is commonly thought garlic grown in California is superior in three specific areas: flavor, food safety and consistent, reliable supply,” says Layous.

Food safety is a hot-button issue in produce and throughout the foodservice industry, as it should be, and this gives domestic garlic an edge.

“The Garlic Company’s vertically integrated structure allows for simple product tracking and enforcement of proper treatments and processes,” says Layous . “Whereas compared to competitors overseas, the garlic can be sourced from multiple small farms. Consumers have expressed concerns ranging from basic plant sanitation to the pesticides implemented in farming practices.”

Christopher Ranch Peeled Garlic

Photo courtesy of Christopher Ranch

“Traceability out of California is superb,” says Anthony Sharrino, president and owner of Eaton & Eustis headquartered in Chelsea, MA. “Everything is tracked — from the field it came from and the day it was picked.” This isn’t the case in countries such as China, which is the largest grower of garlic in the world and a sometimes tough competitor. While global competition has leveled off a bit recently, Sharrino explains the difficulty of competing in a global market: “There was competition from China because they were giving it away. You can’t compete with people who are giving it away.”

Ultimately, it’s the consumer who will make the choice, and right now imported garlic sales are strong. According to I Love Produce’s Provost, “Sales indicate imported garlic currently has about a 60 percent market share in the United States, comprising a combination of Chinese, Spanish, Argentinian and Mexican product. There are some retailers that have a preference for domestic garlic.

“My personal philosophy is, give the consumers what they want. Bud Light is the best-selling beer in America, but that should not preclude a store from handling a good imported stout or lager. We encourage our customers to carry domestic bulk or loose garlic, and Chinese packaged or sleeve garlic. This is the best combination to grow the category and maximize sales,” he says.

Packaging and Eating Trends

“Garlic seems to be a product that stays on trend,” says Ross. “It is popular with the low-fat, no-fat type of cooking. It is great for low sodium or salt-free since it adds so much flavor, and it can be a versatile flavor as well, depending on how it’s cooked.”

According to Ross, cooking garlic at different temperatures and for different lengths of time produces different flavors. Slow and long heating produces a sweet flavor. Short, high heat reveals a bitter, sharper flavor.

Consumers have several options for purchasing garlic. Fresh garlic bulbs are the choice for many on the retail side and peeled garlic is preferred by foodservice. For some busy shoppers, peeled has appeal as well. “Peeled garlic is a great product that is gaining momentum in some markets,” says Ross. “It is a refrigerated item that is available in a stand-up pouch, ready to use — no waste and no labor.”

“Whole bulbs of garlic offer the truest, freshest garlic flavor for any recipe,” says Layous, but he also sees customers opting for the convenience of peeled garlic. “Roasted garlic is also gaining in popularity. The roasted option allows garlic to be included in a dish in a smooth, mellow way. The shopper doesn’t need to be as concerned with the lingering smell long after the meal.”

“Many customers want garlic already peeled so they can save time,” says LoPresti at A.J. Trucco Inc. “We offer 5-pound jars of Spanish peeled. We also sell retail five-bulb sleeved garlic from Spain.”

Provost of I Love Produce sees growth of peeled garlic at the retail level, and multi-bulb packs are gaining popularity as well. The demand for organics also remains strong. “Organic garlic is an important part of the category,” says Provost.

For Hymel at Spice World, packaging should meet the demands of consumers. “We always try to be cutting-edge with our packaging for our customers,” he says. “At the same time, we always try to fill whatever needs they might have. We’re as eco-friendly as we can possibly be.”

Ethnic Cooking

For many consumers, garlic has a strong association with Italian cuisine, but it is used in cooking throughout the world. “Everyone thinks of garlic and Italian food, but other European cultures use a lot of garlic as well — France, Germany and Spain, to name a few,” says Ross. “Mexico uses a lot of garlic in its cooking and so does the Middle East. It’s almost easier to name the cultures that don’t use garlic in their cooking.”

“Garlic is very heavily used in Asian cuisines,” says Provost. “I am seeing peeled garlic used in meal kits that combine all the ingredients for a consumer to prepare a specialty meal — like Thai, Chinese or Vietnamese dishes.”

Layous has also seen the rise of garlic-
centric ethnic cuisine in the United States. “The popularity of ethnic cuisines like Chinese, Italian, Mexican, Indian and Thai continue to increase, and garlic is an integral ingredient in many of the dishes. It is not only desired for its stand-alone flavor, but also how it complements the flavor of other ingredients in a dish, especially other vegetables.”

Retailers who dedicate adequate space to clean, bright bulbs and who employ a few simple merchandising methods, will see this high-dollar bulb pay dividends at the checkout.