Holidays help build sales in dried fruits and nut aisles.
Originally printed in the November 2022 issue of Produce Business.
The holidays are fast approaching, and this year offers an opportunity for dried fruit and nut sales as consumers pay more attention to healthy eating.
Of course, plenty of less-than-healthy goodies will find their way onto the holiday menu, but the growing aversion to empty calories has a lot of consumers turning to dried fruit and nuts as healthy alternatives.
On the nut side of the equation, research firm MarketsandMarkets estimates the nut product business is worth $6.7 billion in 2022, and is projected to reach $8.9 billion by 2027, recording a compound annual growth rate of 5.9% over the five-year period. Points highlighted in the report include growth of the walnuts segment that will push it into the second largest share in the nut products market. The California walnut industry has boomed over the years, MarketsandMarkets reports, with over 4,000 growers and more than 90 manufacturers involved. Of course, 99% of walnut production in the United States takes place in California, which has seen massive demand worldwide such that walnuts have become the fourth leading export from the state, with a value of $970 million.
Jennifer Olmstead, senior director of U.S. marketing and communications for the California Walnut Board & Commission, Folsom, CA, says holidays certainly help build sales.
“This is the season when in-shell walnuts make an appearance in the produce section. It’s a perfect time for consumers to set out a bowl of walnuts with a nutcracker and enjoy the tradition of hand-cracking walnuts,” Olmstead says
She also adds walnuts make “fantastic holiday décor.”
MarketsandMarkets points out the nut butter segment is projected to account for the second largest market share in the nut products market, in terms of form consumed. Although that doesn’t sound like a produce department opportunity, Brooklyn Harvest, a grocery store group with five locations in Brooklyn and Queens, NY, thinks otherwise — each Brooklyn Harvest store has a machine that turns its nuts into almond and peanut butter.
Aridio Guzman, produce supervisor for Brooklyn Harvest stores, says party trays are also a specialty at Brooklyn Harvest, including elaborate examples made from fruit fresh cut by the company’s staff.
“If we are making special trays, we are making a big display in all the stores,” he says.
Trays are the centerpiece of a new holiday initiative at Nuts.com. In September, the online retailer launched GiftDrop, a new way for customers to build customized trays that have over 150 ingredient choices. To put together a gift, the giver picks the size and type of tray, adds a personalized message, and then hits send. Almost immediately, the recipient receives an email asking them to accept the gift, according to Nuts.com. The email leads to a landing page where they can select snacks from the full range of choices. Once they have done selecting, their unique, hand-crafted gift is off to delivery.
Maxine Litre, vice president and general manager gifting and B2B for Nuts.com, Cranford, NJ, says the e-tailer is responding to changes in the marketplace.
“The gifting landscape has evolved to give recipients more control over their experience,” she says. “The giver also wants the recipient to love their gift, and digital-first gifting allows the recipient to perfect the gift to their exact liking.”
Litre says custom items already are hero products for Nuts.com. They include custom trays and trail mix, and have grown more than 300% in the last few years.
Melannie Marra, president, Marra Bros. Distributing, Morgan Hill, CA, and a fruit stand operator as well, says trays are not only in demand among the company’s retail customers, but that there is a loud call for high end, beautiful items that will not only taste great, but decorate the tables they grace.
Still, she notes there are multiple ways to create gifts using dried fruit and nuts. One idea she has for her fruit stand this year is dried fruit layered colorfully in resealable hinge jars.
She warned, however, that product for gifting has to look attractive and delicious or it’s probably not going to sell. Her philosophy with both retail customers, including some very high end groceries, and her farm stand are the same: Make sure a gift is going to meet a superior standard.
“I want it to be perfect for them or it’s just not right,” she says.
GETTING HOLIDAYS RIGHT
For his part, Chris Large, sales manager at Torn & Glasser, Los Angeles, says tastes are changing and younger consumers have gravitated away from some of the traditional holiday dried fruit and nuts. However, to some extent, the COVID-19 pandemic made people wary of bulk and scoop items, so packaged product is in.
Torn & Glasser, says Large, doesn’t wait for the end-of-year holidays to generate gift products. “We do holiday items year-round, starting with Valentine’s Day,” he says.
The holidays require some creativity and a strong sense of what might work, year to year.
“I’m having some gift boxes created in round containers with dividers that can hold different products, to sell in the $50 to $60 range,” says Tess Mercado, founder and principal of Nutridge Farms, Chino, CA,
The company has a combination of sweet and savory products, ranging from spicy peanuts and almonds to pumpkin almonds and date walnuts.
As the holidays approach, Mercado says it’s time to think about products that work online and not just in stores. Wherever merchandised, packaging in bags and boxes can draw sales in the holidays, she adds.
The holiday occasion is a new chance to demonstrate how pistachios can boost sales, says Diana Salsa, associate vice president, marketing, Wonderful Pistachios, Los Angeles, CA, and the winter holidays are a top-selling occasion for Wonderful Pistachios.
“In-shell products, especially the larger pack sizes, are excellent for entertaining at home or for gatherings with family and friends,” Salsa says. “Meanwhile, our no shells are ideal for people who are traveling during the holidays, as pistachios without the shells make for an easy and healthy on-the-go snack. No shells are also ideal for holiday cooking and baking and are a great crunchy addition to many festive side dishes.”
Olmstead, of the California Walnut Board & Commission, says whether for eating, decoration or both, walnuts get a holiday boost from the traditional cooking that is popular as the holidays proceed.
“Holidays are a perfect time to use walnuts in a variety of recipes, from sweet to savory,” she says.
Although in-shell have a holiday vibe, having shelled available is a way to drive sales.
“Americans are all about convenience,” Olmstead says, “so it’s not surprising that most of the walnuts are sold already shelled. Shelled walnuts make it easy to create a walnut habit: Grab a handful as an on-the-go-snack, or a tasty, crunchy addition to yogurt, cereals and salads.”
A significant proportion of consumers is adding more plant foods to diets, and Olmstead says among the companies responding is Glenda’s Farmhouse with its new line of Walnut Crumbles in Original, Asian and Mexican flavors. At the same time, there are other companies, including Crazy Go Nuts, Diamond Foods, Nutty Gourmet, Snack Primal, and Unbound Snacks, making walnuts more festive with sweet and savory walnuts in flavors such as Pumpkin Spice, Eggnog and Peppermint Chocolate.
MAKING MORE OF THE SEASON
Produce departments should make the most of the year-end opportunity to bolster dried fruit and nuts sales.
“Eye-catching point-of-sale display vehicles, such as the holiday displays Wonderful Pistachios rolls out, can help drive impulse sales at the point of purchase,” says Salsa. “At retail this year, shoppers will be greeted by bins featuring a festive pistachio snowflake design to help get them into the holiday spirit.”
Stores with display bins see up to two times higher sales velocities compared to stores without, she adds.
The California Walnut Board and Commission recommends “cross-merchandising walnuts with dried fruit,” Olmstead says. “Bundled offers are a terrific way to encourage shoppers to use both items together.”
“Our research shows 76% of consumers are more likely to purchase walnuts when they are displayed alongside fresh fruits and vegetables in the produce aisle,” Olmstead says.
“Cross-merchandising walnuts with other complementary produce items, such as cranberries, butternut squash, Brussels sprouts or bagged lettuce, helps the consumer be inspired with ways to use them. Bundled offers and signage are impactful in terms of driving sales of both items and helps with faster turn and higher basket rings,” Olmstead adds.
“For major holidays, positioning product next to staple ingredients is incredibly beneficial,” Salsa says. “People may not think of adding chopped pistachios to their favorite sautéed or roasted vegetables, but when they see two of their favorite products next to each other in the produce section, there are inevitably ‘Aha!’ moments that click for the consumer.”
It may not be a bad idea to remind consumers that nuts do double duty in a frequently nutrition-deficient holiday season, as they provide protein and other dietary positives. Plus, they’re fun.
“Health is a top reason shoppers purchase walnuts, second only to taste,” Olmstead says.