Long associated with affluence, pomegranates can generate sales for savvy retailers.
In both ancient and modern cultures the pomegranate has been a symbol of fertility, abundance, prosperity and wealth. More practically, pomegranates are valued for their versatility, nutritional value and great taste, although many consumers are largely unaware of their existence.
This is something Tom Tjerandsen, manager of the Sonoma, CA-based California Pomegranate Council, can attest to. “When busy consumers are putting together their shopping lists, they don’t write pomegranates from California,” he says.
Instead, consumers generally purchase the fruit on impulse. “When you have about a fifth of a second to catch a shopper’s eye as they go stampeding down the aisles, it’s important to have something that’s interesting, compelling and relevant.”
The pomegranate is all these things, but according to Tjerandsen, research suggests fewer than 25 percent of shoppers in the United States have experience with pomegranates. “Of those, maybe only 15 percent have ever purchased one, which means 85 percent of the country is still a prime target for purchase.”
This is a challenge for the industry from growers and shippers on down to retailers.
Challenges Create Opportunities
David Anthony, domestic and Canadian sales representative for Ruby Fresh in Firebaugh, CA, recognizes the challenge of pomegranate promotion. “The age-old pushback with pomegranates is, ‘How do you open one?’ We offer instructions on our store displays as well as more information on our website. Ironically, the challenge of ‘deseeding’ a pomegranate is a big reason for the increased popularity of our Pomegranate Aril Snack Cups.”
Arils are a growing part of pomegranate sales and that’s due in part to good messaging. “Now that a lot more information exists regarding pomegranate usage, consumers are eager to experiment with new and exciting combinations and additions,” says Rene Millburn, public relations director for King Fresh Produce, headquartered in Dinuba, CA.
“Also helping the consumers ride the pomegranate wave are suppliers who are packaging ready-to-eat arils in the produce department, for ease and convenience.”
As popular as the fruit has become in recent years, there’s plenty of room for improvement at all levels. “Our industry needs to rededicate ourselves to educate our customers on all the good things about pomegranates,” says Levon Ganajian, director of retail relations for Trinity Fruit Sales based in Fresno, CA. He sees a path forward through a combination of trade magazines, cooking shows, produce shows, health and natural food shows; all of which provide opportunities for getting the message out.
“In the past five years we’ve seen tremendous growth for what was once a fruit that was looked upon as messy and troublesome,” says Robert Schueller, director of public relations at Melissa’s/World Variety Produce headquartered in Los Angeles. “At one time, people used to eat around the seeds and spit them out, but then they realized that the pulp and the seed together is entirely edible.”
Year-round demand for pomegranate products has been helped greatly by the rise in popularity of arils. Ganajian sees this as major factor in the future for the fruit. Trinity now has a year-round arils program.
“Arils are the way of the future just because of the convenience,” he says. “We test our arils. We have a minimum 15 brix, it’s all tested before it’s packaged. It’s a more consistent product than a whole pomegranate.”
Dominic Engels, president at POM Wonderful, based in Los Angeles, sees pomegranates as a hyper-seasonal product that provides an opportunity to bring something special to the produce department.
“When POM Wonderful variety is in season that really sets the tone,” he says. “The really important part of having a successful marketing program in store is to make sure that you hit the ground running.”
“There’s nothing but upside for the retailer, and that’s how they need to be seeing it. You can bet that if the retailer participates commensurately, they’re going to benefit from all of the investment we made.”
— Dominic Engels, POM Wonderful
Retailers can take advantage of the continued trend of pomegranates as a healthy fruit through strategic promotions. In all its forms, Engels reports household penetration of POM Wonderful juice and fresh fruit is about 7 percent and 8 percent respectively, and 2 percent for arils.
“There’s nothing but upside for the retailers, and that’s how they need to be seeing it.” Engels says POM Wonderful has invested millions of dollars to promote pomegranates in the past two and a half years with much of that money going to television.
This major marketing effort is something retailers would be wise to capitalize on. “You can bet that if the retailer participates commensurately, they’re going to benefit from all of the investment we made,” he says.
Consuming pomegranates has been credited with slowing the progress of prostate cancer, reducing carotid artery stenosis and helping prevent heart disease. Many consumers are aware of
“We believe consumers in large percentages are very aware of the nutritional benefits of pomegranates,” says Anthony at Ruby Fresh. “They are now easily recognized as a superfood that is high in antioxidants and low in calories.”
Tjerandsen has seen this in his work with the California Pomegranate Council as well. “The researchers continue to concur that shoppers are looking for items that are unique and provide substantial nutrition. Pomegranates certainly fall into that category. They’re very high in antioxidants and naturally occurring vitamins, so it’s something that hits a responsive chord if you can call attention to it,”
Millburn at King Fresh says retailers do a good job promoting the health halo, and also thinks the message is being communicated in other ways. “I think information received via the Internet, television, etc., is also imparting to the public at large that pomegranates are a significant source of vitamin C and many other nutrients/antioxidants. More consumers are seeking pomegranates these days for that very reason.”
Cross-Merchandising And POS
Promoting pomegranates in produce requires educating consumers and to that end POS materials work well.
“I know it’s short and sweet and seems simple, but really the best way to do this is to show them the recipes,” say Stefanie Katzman, executive manager for S. Katzman Produce, a full-line wholesaler located at the Bronx-based Hunts Point Produce Market.
“The consumer needs to be able to envision the end result and see how easy it is to do, and how delicious it tastes. We had a professional chef create some delicious recipes using our pom seeds and some of our other products too. Then we posted them on our website and made recipe cards to pass out at food shows and in-store demos,” she says.
“When we reach out to our customers to promote pomegranates, we like to do a cross-demo, and we share the demo with another commodity. Yogurt is a good pairing, but also lettuce companies as well.”
— Levon Ganajian, Trinity Fruit Sales
In-store demos can also be employed to cross-promote. “When we reach out to our customers to promote pomegranates, we like to do a cross-demo, and we share the demo with another commodity,” says Trinity’s Ganajian. “Yogurt is a good pairing, but also lettuce companies as well.”
The popularity of pom arils on salads has prompted Trinity to explore other avenues for sales. “We do bulk pomegranate arils for salad bars,” says Ganajian. “We’re seeing a huge expansion on that part of the business. We see that continuing, and we also see it in foodservice.”
“Clear trends of consumers today are convenience and quick meal preparation,” says Engels of POM Wonderful. “We found incredible opportunity with arils co-merchandised with berries, so we suggest a primary or secondary location in the berry cooler.”
The company’s pomegranate juice is another opportunity to increase sales. “It’s been relatively unchanged in terms of packaging — it’s only gone from glass to plastic — and it’s the No. 1 item in produce juice 14 years later. Trends have come and gone, but for the past 12 months, we set the best records in the sale of our juice at retail,” says Engels.
It Pays To Display
Because it’s an impulse purchase, displays play an important role in getting pomegranates into carts and baskets.
“Display bins continue to be the draw for impulse buyers,” says Anthony at Ruby Fresh. “We are also seeing good success with our social media campaign, which combines our website along with our Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest updates to drive consumers to our sites for updates, recipes and sharing of ideas.”
Ruby Fresh provides high graphic bulk display bins, which draw attention and also offer information for recipes and eating ideas.
“Some retailers buy high graphic bins that are easy to replenish,” says Atomic Torosian, managing partner for Crown Jewels Produce headquartered in Fresno, CA. “They hold cases of pomegranates below. The bin program has been very successful for us and other shippers as well.”
“We have seen 50 percent growth in arils sales over the past two seasons since they were introduced. As a result, we expanded our aril plant this summer
season to increase our volume accordingly.”
— Jeff Simonian, Simonian Fruit Company
“Retailers have discovered the tremendous value of the self-standing bins,” says Tjerandsen. “Depending on the company, some are shipped as a contiguous unit with the fruit inside. All retailers have to do is move it up to the top. It’s incremental profit because the bin stands in a space on the floor that is generally not generating revenue. It’s a new profit center.”
Grab-and-go packaging is also fueling new innovations for pomegranate arils. “A lot of retailers are selling them in the aril packs, and that’s a more recent trend,” says Jeff Simonian, sales manager for Simonian Fruit Company, based in Fowler, CA. “They’ll sell them side by side or they’ll have the whole pomegranate in the bulk display but they’ll have the arils in the refrigerated.”
This makes sense when taken in context of the shift toward grab-and-go and the convenience category. Rather than dealing with removing and disposing of a thick rind, consumers can eat the arils quickly and without making a mess.
Anthony has seen expansion in this segment as well. “We have seen 50 percent growth in arils sales over the past two seasons since they were introduced,” says Simonian. “As a result, we expanded our aril plant this summer season to increase our volume accordingly. Our retail customers are continuing to report significant growth in the program.”
In addition to convenience, this growth can also be attributed to the continued health consciousness of consumers. “A cup of arils is a great breakfast or snack option. More people are combining them with their favorite yogurt or using as a salad topping. This carries over to dinner when arils are used for favorite recipes and main course dishes,” says Anthony.
The Future Of The Fruit
Even as health messaging trails off, at least in consumers’ minds, pomegranate sales continue to grow. Key players in the industry are optimistic despite challenges.
“We are finding the market for arils continues to grow year on year,” says Anthony. “While the fall season is a big time for pomegranates, at Ruby Fresh we are focusing on year-round availability.”
South American growers in Peru and Argentina make this availability possible. “Next season, the Peruvian market will be open to fresh pomegranates, which will offer increased supplies for the spring/summer season as well,” says Anthony. “We are anticipating a significant growth in pomegranates during the spring/summer season starting in 2017.”
Pomegranates also enjoy healthy sales as an export item, which is a big part of the business for shippers like Crown Jewels in Fresno, CA. “We are probably the second or third largest pomegranate shipper,” explains Torosian of Crown Jewels Produce. “It’s a good product for us. We export a lot of fruit to Canada and Mexico and a lot domestically. Pomegranates are a big export item to the Pacific Rim countries (Japan, Korea, Australia) and down into Mexico and some of the Central American countries. I’ve been shipping pomegranates since 1974, but there has really been a rebirth sometime after 2006. It’s really taken off again.”
Exports are thriving and packaged arils are breathing new life into the category, but it’s still the whole fruit that offers a great eating experience to consumers.
“The arils alone, although a time-saving convenience, have not outweighed purchasing a good old fashioned pomegranate, in my opinion,” says King Fresh’s Millburn. “There’s a great deal of gratification that comes from successfully tackling a pomegranate.”
While there is a large percentage of the population left to target, educational campaigns and advertising by companies like POM Wonderful have significantly raised the profile of pomegranates.
“Information has really gone out there, so people are less afraid to buy pomegranates,” says Schueller of Melissa’s/World Variety Produce. “We’ve gotten past that point where people weren’t too familiar with pomegranates. A lot has changed especially in the past five years. Chefs have used the fruit in applications on menus, and make people more aware of how to use and enjoy them in their meals.”