Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, shift the retail marketing focus to maximize profits.
As consumers grow more health-conscious, they’re inclined to reach for nuts and dried fruit instead of candy and chips for snacking.
“Up to 70 percent of all dried fruits now are used for snacking,” says Joe Tamble, vice president of retail sales execution for Kingsburg, CA-based Sun-Maid, a cooperative owned by family farmers. This shift creates a real opportunity for produce departments that merchandise these products.
With Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and other celebrations coming up fast, produce executives should not forget about a prominent group looking for dried fruit and nuts this time of year — holiday bakers.
“As we prepare for the holidays, many of us are thinking about friends and family get-togethers, gifts for teachers, and delicious treats to have on the counter for our family to enjoy,” says Jamie McGarity, brand marketing assistant for Severn, NC-based Hampton Farms. That means shoppers are more likely to purchase nuts and dried fruit for family recipes or dishes they find online. Here are some new, tried-and-true tips for ensuring your department can meet the needs of cooks and candy makers.
Joseph Bunting, director of produce for Lubbock, TX-based United Supermarkets, a chain with stores throughout Texas and New Mexico, says almonds, walnuts and Texas pecans are particularly popular around the holidays.
Debbie Miner, produce manager for Highland Park Market, a Manchester, CT-based chain with five stores, says holiday shoppers come to the produce department looking for packages of mixed nuts, almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts. She only adds these items to her inventory in the late fall and early winter.
Peanut sales are generally on the rise, according to Lauren Highfill Williams, marketing and communications manager for the National Peanut Board, a research, marketing and promotion organization based in Atlanta.
“United States Department of Agriculture figures show per capita peanut consumption topped 7 pounds in 2014,” she says. “Consumers are recognizing the unique flavor and health benefits that peanuts and other nuts provide. Peanuts are healthy, provide seven grams of protein per serving and have the heart check from the American Heart Association.”
“We try to offer a big impact display with nuts and dried fruit tied into it. That creates a destination center. We do that as a convenience for our guests.”
— Joseph Bunting, United Supermarkets
“Before, one of the main peanut products you would think of during the holidays was peanut brittle,” says McGarity. “Now you see many products and recipes that give you ideas of what you can make using peanuts and peanut butter. Although many holiday baking recipes we see are similar to classic favorites, consumers are always looking for new things to try with the resources they have at their fingertips … we are confident many people are using peanuts in holiday baking.”
In the dried fruit category, Bunting says dried cranberries do very well around the holidays, as do blueberries. Miner says cranberries and apricots are her best holiday sellers.
“Dates are very popular during the holidays for both baking and appetizers,” says Stephanie Harralson, senior product manager for Sunsweet Growers Inc., a grower-owned cooperative that’s based in Yuba City, CA. “Prunes have been showing strong growth.” Sales are currently up 9 percent over last year according to data from data analytics firm IRI.
Raisins, golden raisins, currants and figs are also good holiday items. Consumers looking to try something different in their holiday baked goods can check out Sunsweet’s Pacific Tropicals line. It includes Philippine mango and green mango, Philippine pineapple as well as Thai coconut chips.
Easy To Find
“We always merchandise nuts and dried fruit together,” says Bunting. “We try to offer a big impact display with nuts and dried fruit tied into it. That creates a destination center. We do that as a convenience for our guests. They can find everything they’re looking for right there. They don’t have to search for it in the store.”
Miner places dried fruit and nuts in bins at the front of the produce department; on a large wooden rack she keeps for seasonal items, or on displays near the store entrance. “If it’s a seasonal thing you want to catch people’s attention, so put them front and center,” she says. “Location is the number one thing.”
Harralson says dried fruit and nuts do best when placed at the entrance to produce, or in transition areas between produce and grocery. “Avoid placing dried fruit on bottom shelves where it’s difficult to find or see,” she says.
“Dried fruit is very impulse-driven,” says Tamble with Sun-Maid. Because of that, he encourages retailers to use pallet or shipper displays. The latter, he says, “has a very small footprint and is designed to move products through quickly.” Sunsweet also offers in-store displays for pitted and chopped dates.
“For walnuts, secondary displays beyond the baking aisle are a great reminder to use walnuts for more than holiday baking needs,” says Jennifer Olmstead, marketing director, domestic public relations for the California Walnut Board and Commission, which is located in Folsom, CA. If displays remain into the New Year, when people are thinking about healthy snacking, it can promote sales even after presents have been unwrapped and champagne bottles uncorked.
There’s no better way to promote dried fruit than to help consumers save money when they buy it. Sun-Maid is currently promoting a holiday campaign called “Bake It for Santa.” One of the centerpieces of the campaign is an FSI coupon that’s good for 55 cents off one 20-ounce canister or 12-ounce box of raisins, 15-ounce box of golden raisins or any size container of Zante currents. The company is also running ads, sharing social media posts about cooking with dried fruit, and doing product placement on food-related television shows and websites.
Recipes are key to promoting nuts and dried fruit, says United Supermarkets’ Bunting. “People are always looking for something different.” If stores can give them another usage idea, they’re more likely to increase purchases.
Those cooking suggestions can be for more traditional recipes or new ideas. “Freshly ground peanut butter can be used in holiday peanut butter cookies, cakes and quick breads and more,” says Highfill Williams with the National Peanut Board.
“Chopped peanuts provide a crunchy and salty balance as a topping for a classic peanut butter pie. We also saw an exciting new take on the traditional pecan pie that uses peanuts instead, and introduces a modern salted caramel flavor profile.”
“Since most consumers are looking for quick recipes with minimal ingredients, posting a quick how-to video using products that are featured in the store can create interest prior to a customer’s visit,” says McGarity with Hampton Farms.
“Better yet, sampling the finished product in-store with recipe handouts and coupons is sure to be a hit. Also, featuring a display for candy apples … that contains all the items needed to make them at home — such as apples, caramel, granulated peanuts and wax paper — is a great way to boost sales in multiple categories.”
Use existing in-store resources to promote recipes and cooking ideas to the maximum level. “The California Walnut Board regularly works with registered dietitians and provides support materials — primarily in the form of recipes and nutrition information — that they can share with consumers,” says Olmstead.
Dietitians may be particularly helpful when it comes to suggesting post-holiday cooking ideas. “Prunes are also part of the healthy New Year tradition, which should not be overlooked by retailers,” says Sunsweet’s Harralson. “Consumers increase their purchases of healthy snacks right after the New Year as they start thinking of new goals.”
Sunsweet plans to promote a social media program called “I Eat Right Because” between January and March. The campaign will share healthy lifestyle tips from dietitians and fitness advisors via Facebook. The company also offers educational brochures on the health benefits of prunes for retailers. New in-store shippers will include tearpads with recipes and advice for healthy living.
Since nuts and dried fruit are already in the produce department at this time of year, think about how you can cross-merchandise with non-baking items. “During the holidays, we suggest merchandising walnuts near the bagged salads as well as some of the whole foods they pair well with, such as apples, pears, winter squash, yams and green beans,” says Olmstead.
Remind consumers that walnuts and other nuts are delicious toasted, candied or spiced. Flavored nuts are a traditional present this time of year, but dried fruit can also be incorporated into gift products. “More consumers are including it in homemade gifts such as their own healthy granola bars, granola and trail mix,” says Harralson. “Dried fruit mixed in with other ingredients is popular to give in a Mason jar with instructions for breads or cookies.”
Bunting shares another tip for increasing holiday nut and dried fruit sales. “Make sure you’re looking at sales from last year and keeping the popular items in stock day in and day out,” he stresses. “These are high-profit sales with low labor costs. You don’t want to miss any of these sales.”