Good merchandising practices provide perfect cure for seasonal blues
Summertime — when fruit is available in abundance — is all about vacations, outdoor celebrations and sporting events. Not only does fruit complement these events, it is also the perfect antidote for a hot day. It makes a great topping for ice cream and as an ingredient in smoothies. Cherries, grapes, blueberries and watermelon are fun to eat, loved by kids and right at home on family picnics. Sales soar in produce departments in the summer, but it’s no vacation from effective promotions and marketing opportunities.
Maximizing Sales During Summer Months
Nothing conveys the feeling of summer like the Golden State, as Jan DeLyser, vice president of marketing for the California Avocado Commission, headquartered in Irvine, CA, points out. “The summer months are peak season for California, and it’s an opportunity to let shoppers know California avocados are available on display,” she says.
Communicating California to consumers is a great way to promote the fruit commodities grown in the state, and DeLyser recommends retailers emphasize this selling point with signage calling out their origin. DeLyser also notes the summer holidays are great opportunities to promote and display California avocados. “Summertime picnics and parties also fit naturally with a consumer’s image of California,” she says. “We’ve seen lots of creative summer-themed displays built by produce managers.” To help retailers loyal to the fruit, the CAC provides marketing support, which includes point-of-sale materials.
Summertime is good for mangos too. Rachel Muñoz, director of marketing for the National Mango Board, headquartered in Orlando, FL, suggests produce departments use colorful displays to catch the shopper’s eye. “Mangos are beautiful and colorful, so build big displays and shoppers will be attracted. Retailers with loyal mango buyers may want to carry more than one size.” Placing mangos next to stone fruit also builds sales. Muñoz points to the Board’s 2015 store display test which revealed merchandising mangos adjacent to stone fruit during the summer months had a 45 percent net impact on mango volume and dollars. This was compared to a control panel where mangos were displayed in the tropicals’ set.
While consumers know fruit has a well-deserved reputation as a healthy food product, they are often confused about what to look for during the selection process. “Promoting health benefits is a consistently great way to spur sales,” says Juliemar Rosado, director of retail operations and international marketing for the National Watermelon Promotion Board, based in Winter Springs, FL. “Another quick way to maximize sales is to educate customers on selection.”
Some consumers may not be as confident in picking the juiciest melon, but Rosado has an easy way to spot the best. “I like to say look, lift, turn. First, look at the watermelon and make sure it’s symmetrical and free of any major dents, gashes, or bruising. Second, lift it up. A watermelon should be fairly heavy for its size at 92 percent water. Last, turn it over and look for a creamy yellow spot often referred to as the ground spot to show where it sat on the ground and ripened in the sun.”
While there is a mobile app for testing ripeness, nothing beats seeing and feeling when selecting a watermelon. Better yet, real-life “Watermelon Queens” have been a great in-store promotion
to ensure successful sales. “These young women are smart and educated and bring something unique to the produce department as well as the ability to educate that hesitant customer on how to choose the best watermelon.”
For Cindy Plummer, vice president of domestic marketing for the California Table Grape Commission headquartered in Fresno, CA, the most effective way to sell more grapes is to promote them with front-page ads. “Research shows for the spring/summer grape season, retailers need to promote grapes from California three to five times per month and doing so can increase sales by 30 to 57 percent. Make sure the grape ads include two or more varieties of grapes as that will help increase grape sales as well.”
“Northwest cherries are the No. 1 dollar-per-square-foot item in produce departments during their peak,” says James W. Michael, vice president of marketing, North America for Northwest Cherry Growers and the Washington State Fruit Commission a, both headquartered in Yakima, WA. “Last season 67 percent of our crop shipped in just 30 days. Retailers should have a plan for solid promotion now in order to ensure they get their share of the potential sales. Proactive retailers can grab the lion’s share of cherries in their territories if they act early.”
According to Chris Christian, senior vice president for the California Strawberry Commission headquartered in Watsonville, CA, peak availability for California strawberries is May through July, with weekly shipments averaging 5 to 7 million flats per week. “Summer is an ideal time to maintain primary displays of strawberries and promote frequently with other berry category segments,” says Christian. “Advertising strawberries with another berry type can drive a 140 percent increase in berry pound sales. A mix of feature ads, TPR’s and in-store promos is most effective.”
An Abundance Of Opportunities
“Display, display, display.” That’s DeLyser’s advice, and what better way to sell fruit than to let the fruit sell itself? The CAC provides retailers with POS support and merchandising bins to display avocados, which can lead to supplemental sales. “Displays of avocados encourage purchases of complementary produce and other items, so avocados should be high on the list for summer fruit displays.” DeLyser points out basket rings are 36 percent higher when avocados are included than when they are not in the basket and during the California avocado season this figure jumps to 44 percent.
“Displays are very important for grapes as consumers buy with their eyes,” explains Plummer. “Make sure the display is refreshed frequently and is large enough. In order to obtain optimum sales results, target an average of at least 25 square feet of space devoted to grapes from May through August. Space allocation of more than 25 feet can generate up to 63 percent more dollars per store per year than sets under 18 feet.” Plummer also suggests signage with prominent price and origin as well as price cards and danglers to help decorate the display.
“Displays of avocados encourage purchases of complementary produce and other items, so avocados should be high on the list for summer fruit displays.”
— Jan DeLyser, California Avocado Commission
For Mangos, the NMB suggests POS tools to educate consumers. “Many of our POS offerings focus on the main barriers to purchase,” says Muñoz, “which are how to cut and how to judge ripeness. One of our most popular items is a 30-by-24-inch plastic banner that folds down for shipping and distribution and makes a big splash at the display. We also offer recipe header cards and tear-pad sets for all seasons.”
The NWPB provides similar tools for watermelons by offering a retail kit detailing information on consumer research, resources, health and nutrition. “We also have a variety of POS materials available to retailers such as posters, stickers and recipe cards as well as retailer education videos and literature,” says Rosado.
Let’s not forget berries. Mark Villata, executive director for the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council cites a recent Interactions report that found 96 percent of shoppers prefer to spend their money at retailers that offer in-store product demos over stores that don’t. This has lead 81 percent of shoppers who experienced a demo product to purchase that item on impulse. “The amazing versatility and appeal of blueberries makes them an ideal product to feature in demos,” says Villata. “As consumers ride the smoothie craze, retailers like Whole Foods Market have begun showcasing fresh and frozen blueberries in smoothie recipes. Other interesting, simple-to-demonstrate dishes include blueberry salmon flatbreads served with avocado and jalapeño; blueberry turkey burgers served with blueberry ketchup; or blueberry s’mores made with peanut butter, banana and graham crackers.”
“The Northwest Cherry Growers maintain a variety of point of sale materials to support our promotions, but the real key to cherry sales is visibility,” says Michael. “Most of those lucrative incremental impulse sales are spurred by the emotional reaction that happens when shoppers see a display of beautiful cherries, echoing the fresh, vibrant summer they just stepped in from.” Michael recommends putting cherries up front and in high-traffic areas to capture that summer feeling.
“Blueberries pair well with the myriad foods, so the cross-merchandising opportunities are endless,” says Villata. “Some center-store and dairy staples that work well for cross-merchandising include hot and cold cereals, pancake and waffle mixes, yogurt, cottage cheese, whipped cream, cakes and baked goods. Other, less traditional uses are being devised by creative consumers which includes use in pickling, served with meat and seafood entrees, paired with cheese or mixed in with quinoa, rice or couscous.”
Villata recommends retailers present consumers with a one-stop area for their summer supply needs and recommends cross-merchandising with plastic ware for on-the-go snacking at summer sporting events. Of course, grilling is a favorite summer activity, so cross-merchandising with grilling and outdoor dining supplies will tie the two together in the minds of shoppers planning their next grilled meal.
“Grapes from California are a versatile and healthy addition to almost any dish from grab-and-go eats, to indulgent comfort foods, to light and healthy twists on old favorites, to a satisfying snack all on their own,” notes Plummer. As an example, she suggests cheese and wine paired with grapes or crackers and bread with cheese and grapes. “Grapes are an excellent add-on to salads such as a chicken salad rolled in a tortilla to give it a fresh burst of flavor. Grapes also pair well with dark chocolate or frozen as ice cubes in a drink to cool down on a hot summer day. To emphasize their portability, don’t forget to merchandise with portable containers.”
Burning Like A Heat Wave
El Niño is expected to continue through the summer and into the fall, and while 2015 was plenty warm, 2016 could be even hotter. While this will result in a lot of air conditioning sales, it also provides a marketing opportunity for fruit. What should produce retailers be thinking when temperatures rise? “Think cool and creamy,” says DeLyser. “Retailers can suggest usage ideas such as salads and cold soups with California avocados, frosty smoothies and stuffed avocado halves. Smaller avocados are perfect for individual snacking.”
Muñoz sees mangos as ideally suited for warm weather. “Mangos are so juicy and delicious, they really hit the spot during a hot summer day. Mangos are very versatile and can be used in salsas, smoothies, salads, spicy dishes, sweet dishes, breakfast, lunch and dinner.” Consumed simply as a snack, mangos won’t heat up the kitchen.
“It may also be advantageous to remind shoppers freezing blueberries at home is incredibly simple and a great way to keep a cool, snack-ready stash of fruit on hand.”
— Mark Villata, U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council
What beats the heat better than hydration? Rosado provides the answer when she points out, “You can’t spell watermelon without the word water. Watermelon is a great hydrator at 92 percent water. Whether in a recipe, as a juice, or in slices or chunks, it is a great way to cool down when the summer months get hot. Retailers can use this to their advantage.”
Incorporating simple, refreshing blueberry recipes is a cool idea too. Villata suggests “smoothies, ice cream, sorbet, or frozen blueberry-lime squares will appeal to consumers seeking relief from the summer heat.” As he also points out this isn’t an assumption, it’s been tested. The USHBC commissioned a study that found 71 percent of consumers surveyed said they would consider blueberries as a smoothie ingredient. “It may also be advantageous to remind shoppers freezing blueberries at home is incredibly simple and a great way to keep a cool, snack-ready stash of fruit on hand.” Villata suggests retailers “encourage consumers to freeze their own blueberries to keep as a refreshing, pop-able snack to take to the pool and to sporting events.”
Plummer offers a similar tip for grapes as a way to beat the heat by freezing them to enjoy as a refreshing snack when the temperature rises. Her advice: “Rinse grapes under running water and drain well. Pick the grapes off the stems or place full clusters on a cookie sheet and put in the freezer. After two hours, grapes will be ready to eat.” Plummer also suggests using frozen grapes as ice cubes.
“Last year our growers faced a once-in-400 years heat wave, statistically speaking, so they’re no stranger to the challenge of heat,” says Washington State Fruit Commission’s Michael. “Boosting late season sales with “Buy Now, Freeze Now” messaging is a great on-trend way to double the ring while also reaching that group of Nielsen research-identified Late Season Shoppers — those who only buy at the end of the season because they realize it’s their last chance for the seasonal treat.”
Christian has this advice for retailers dealing strawberries and the heat, “Keep displays stocked with fresh product and check displays each morning and throughout the day to ensure the berries are fresh and appealing, and maintain quality.” She also recommends using refrigerated table displays when possible and maintaining the cold chain by moving strawberry shipments quickly from truck to warehouse to refrigeration.
Celebrating From Memorial Day To Labor Day
The many summer holidays, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, present retailers with a plethora of promotional opportunities. “Grapes go well with all of the summer holidays so make sure they are on ad for Memorial Day, Father’s Day, Flag Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day,” says Plummer.
“To sell more summer grapes, retailers need to make sure they are stocking the grapes preferred by shoppers. Research shows that 94 percent of primary grape shoppers prefer grapes from California more than other origins, when grapes are priced the same. Sixty-nine percent prefer grapes from California when the price for California grapes is higher.” These numbers further support the idea that shoppers pay particular attention to geography when making food choices. This is an opportunity retailers can capitalize on in the lead up to these holidays. “Since California produces 99 percent of the fresh grapes in the U.S., California grapes are America’s local grapes,” says Plummer.
“In order to obtain optimum sales results, target an average of at least 25 square feet of space devoted to grapes from May through August.”
— Cindy Plummer, California Table Grape Commission
“Memorial Day is a great kick-off,” says Rosado at the NWPB. This is followed by the Fourth of July, which falls during National Watermelon Month. “And we can’t forget National Watermelon Day on August 3.”
“Due to their unique blue color, blueberries are often associated with July 4th red, white and blue promotions,” says Villata, adding, “but consumer demand for blueberries is consistent throughout the summer months, and the berries make for vibrant, eye-catching displays any time of year. Blueberries’ versatility makes them an ideal ingredient to promote for a variety of snacks, meals and potluck recipes for summer celebrations and gatherings.”
“Whether George Washington chopped down the cherry tree or not, sweet cherries have become a part of Americana,” says Michael. “Fourth of July and other outdoor picnic-friendly occasions are a great tie-in for cherries, as retail basket surveys show.” Michael suggests cross-promoting in a central location with other picnic items. He also suggests retailers keep in mind that Northwest cherries in secondary displays boost same-store volume by 13.4 percent.