Originally printed in the December 2020 issue of Produce Business.
Traditional nuts can increase sales, bring festive mood to produce aisles.
Chestnuts are about as traditional as a food can be. When Nat King Cole sang about those “chestnuts roasting on an open fire…” in his 1946 recording of The Christmas Song, chestnuts were even more traditional when a larger number of first generation Europeans lived in the U.S.
The song and nut evoke holiday memories. Produce departments can capitalize on this tradition by erecting sizable displays to sell more of the healthy nut as well as increase the sales of other produce and non-produce foods.
So shoppers can see the chestnuts come from Italy, 3 Guys from Brooklyn, an independent store in Brooklyn, NY, promotes chestnuts by stapling the burlap bags, which hold them, into in the front of their large displays. “We sell a ton of chestnuts,” says Philip Penta, managing partner. “They are an important part of that fall and winter variety. People love seeing the change of seasons and getting product that hasn’t been available for a while. Chestnuts add to the mood, to a spirit and to peoples’ memories this time of the year.”
October through December is the primary selling season for chestnuts. European chestnuts are known for higher sugar content and the variety that European descendants demand for that snackable taste.
“As chestnuts aren’t cheap, they’re at a good price point for a retailer, can bring in some money and create some excitement,” says Mike Maxwell, president of Procacci Bros. Sales Corp., Philadelphia, PA. “Culturally, chestnuts bring people back to their grandparents. With this whole COVID thing, a lot of people are going back to the basics. They’re cooking more at home and looking for traditional meals. There’s nothing more traditional to a northern European than chestnuts. They are very much a sweet spot in a lot of peoples’ traditions and get everyone into the Christmas spirit.”
Chestnuts sell well during Christmas and other fall and winter holiday celebrations. “During the holidays, chestnuts are important to add to the holiday look and feel at the store level,” says Nick Pacia, CEO and president of A.J. Trucco, Inc., a New York wholesaler and importer, which sources its chestnuts from the Campania, Calabria and Lazio regions of Italy. “They are a traditional item that adds to the overall holiday spirit.”
Though point of sales material is going away because the information is easy to Google, retailers should continue to place this material with the chestnuts. “There are lots of things merchandisers can do to sell chestnuts because a lot of people don’t know what they are,” says Rick Feighery, Procacci’s vice president of sales. “A lot of people are very intimidated by their own kitchen. If you put the information in their hands and show how easy it is [to utilize these nuts], it helps and gives them a comfort level. Anything you can do to make them comfortable benefits the consumption.”
To effectively merchandise these healthful nuts, marketers advise erecting large displays near the produce department’s entrance. “Put them on large holiday displays at the front of the stores,” advises Pacia. “The best way is to place them in the produce section along other traditional produce items. They should not be hidden away with other nuts.”
Providing chestnuts adequate floor space helps sales. “We’ve found that when chestnuts are allocated a more visible space on the floor, closer to the front of the produce section, this greatly affects sales,” says Pacia. “Make sure to secure this space for chestnuts during the holidays, and ahead of time is crucial.”
Retailers should teach shoppers how to cook chestnuts and introduce them to their taste through sampling. To encourage repeat purchases, Procacci provides retail customers with 100 pounds of chestnuts to hand out to shoppers. In Italy, vendors roast and sell chestnuts on street corners. Procacci sends roasters to select retail partners. The roasters resemble locomotives and allow retailers to roast chestnuts at store level. “The ambiance is there,” says Maxwell. “The aroma is in the air. People get excited about it. That’s merchandising.”
Roasting chestnuts helps drive sales. “Chestnuts can be roasted and handed out to customers, the most typical way to eat chestnuts,” says Pacia. “The easy way to demo chestnuts is with the ready-to-eat (packages). Just open the pouch and serve them to consumers.” Pacia advises cross merchandising chestnuts during the fall and winter.
Retailers who go out of their way erecting displays and promoting chestnuts sell more, observes Maxwell. He notes how one retailer erected a fireplace display that featured stacked cases of Canada Dry in the rear with Duraflame logs, chestnuts and cranberries. “A smart retailer will put them in the circulars for the holidays because of the recipes and the stuffings,” says Maxwell. “Put out piles of them. Don’t make it a little display. Make it so it catches their eyes. You have to bring attention to it.
Chestnuts are an ideal candidate for cross merchandising. They pair well with cranberries and other seasonal items as well as non-produce items including turkey stuffing and wine. “It’s critical to get them in shoppers’ faces,” says Maxwell. “Make your displays a festive thing by placing them around poinsettias. With creativity, one can do all kinds of things.”
Chestnuts help provide a variety of nut offerings for 3 Guys from Brooklyn, which also include fresh walnuts, almonds and filberts. “Chestnuts are not necessarily the most important, but are an important part of the variety,” says Penta. “They fit nicely into the nut category in the holiday season. They’re a great seasonal item. The customers love them.”
Handy Snack Food
Outside of holidays, chestnuts can be marketed as a convenient snack item. “They are one of the most beneficial nuts you can eat,” says Maxwell. “They’re on calories and high in vitamins. They are a very healthy and traditional food.”
Disappointingly, fresh chestnuts have seen a decline in demand, according to some marketers and retailers. “Over the years, our chestnut sales have been falling off,” said one retailer, who declined to comment on the record. “It seems to be less and less every year. People in the city really aren’t roasting chestnuts anymore. We sell pre-roasted in bags. It’s not an item for us anymore.”
Trucco’s new cooked and ready-to-eat chestnuts seem to be taking an increasing amount of shelf space. “Fresh chestnuts are somehow in decline over the years,” observes Pacia. “We are seeing more and more interest into our snack ready-to-eat chestnuts. They are seeing an increase in sales every year.”
To fit customers’ needs and help lessen shrink, Procacci offers retailers chestnuts packed in 1-, 3- and 10-pound units as well as 25-pound bulk burlap bags. The smaller 1-pounders are designed for shoppers who haven’t tried chestnuts. Procacci provides how to use information on the bags, which also feature recipes and roasting instructions. “Many do not know how to cook them in an oven and how to properly slice them, or use them in snacking or in recipes, such as in stuffings,” says Maxwell. Many traditional turkey stuffing recipes call for five to six pounds of chestnuts. “It’s up to us to show people what they are and how they can be used,” he says.