Bring On The Berries

Blue Berries and Strawberries

Originally printed in the March 2018 issue of Produce Business.

Sweet‭, ‬colorful and healthy‭, ‬these fruits can be a big draw in the produce section‭.‬

Berries have a lot of appeal, and supermarket produce executives who aren’t taking steps to showcase them are missing out on an opportunity, not only to sell more berries but also to move products throughout the store that complement berries.

Amber Maloney, director of marketing for Wish Farms, based in Plant City, FL, says blueberries, strawberries, blackberries and raspberries are all growing in popularity, but one berry is standing out above all others.

“More than ever, people are aware of the amazing health benefits of adding these sweet-tasting superfoods to their everyday life,” she says. “If one berry stands out, it would have to be the blueberry. Over the last decade, it has exploded in popularity. Not only does it have a longer shelf-life and great nutritional value, parents are enthusiastic about feeding a healthy, flavorful bite-sized snack to their kids.”

California Giant Berry Farms grows and ships strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries year-round, both domestically and internationally. Cindy Jewell, vice president of marketing for the Watsonville, CA-based company says strawberries are the clear market share leader in both display space at store level and customer demand, but that other berries are making their mark.

“They have always been most available on a year-round basis and the most stable in pricing to the consumer,” says Jewell. “However, if you look at data published by the California Strawberry Commission and the North American Blueberry Council, you can see that fresh blueberries continue to gain in popularity and availability, which has begun to cut into the share of strawberry space. The good news is the entire berry category remains on a growth track, so berries, regardless of the type, continue to be a customer favorite and drive sales in the product department.”

Marketing strategies

‭Maloney says getting creative with marketing can be effective, especially when it focuses on the latest trends, such as where fruits are from and how they are grown.

“[Consumers] want to feel a connection to the farm,” says Maloney. “One way retailers can share information with shoppers is to display point-of-sale signage featuring a photo and bio about the grower.”

Sampling also can help. Once shoppers get a taste of fresh berries and learning creative ways they can be used, they’re likely to want to bring some home.

“Not only can you convert shoppers into becoming berry buyers, we think a residual effect occurs,” says Maloney. “If they enjoy the taste, which they usually do, that experience stays with them and carries over into future shopping trips. We really see the needle move when we host sampling events with our retail partners.”

In addition to ads, circulars, newsletters and coupons, Mark Villata, executive director of the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council in Folsom, CA, suggests showcasing the simplicity of blueberries.

“One of the great things about blueberries is convenience — they make for a hassle-free, rinse-and-go everyday snack — with no pitting, peeling or chopping — and that benefit should be promoted,” says Villata. “Just a handful of blueberries a day packs a big punch.” He suggests increasing exposure by expanding display space and using rolling refrigerators.

Another idea from Villata is in-store demos, which he says can help blueberry sales.

“According to an Interactions report, 81 percent of shoppers have purchased an item on impulse after experiencing a product demo,” he says. “Blueberries are eye-catching and versatile.”

Demos can include making smoothies, or flatbreads with savory blueberry jam. For the spring and summer cookout season, he recommends a blueberry turkey recipe, blueberry ketchup and blueberry s’mores.

Christine Christian, senior vice president of the California Strawberry Commission, based in Watsonville, CA, says promoting strawberries the week before, the week of and the week after a holiday can maximize movement and revenue. “Expand displays to include multiple package size, organic options, and cross merchandise with complementary products to drive incremental sales,” he says.

Derrick Jenkins, vice president of Produce/Floral Division at Wakefern Food Corp., based in Keasbey, NJ, says the company takes advantage of market conditions and features berries at their peak seasons.

“For example, in April and May, we will be featuring California berries. We’ll feature them on the front page of our circular, and merchandise them in the produce department with signage. For Jersey blueberries, which has a locally grown season in the Northeast from June to July, we’ll feature these items in a variety of ads as part of our locally grown campaign.”

Get berries poised for big sales

Paul Kneeland, senior director of produce and floral for Gelson’s Markets, based in Encino, CA, says the company’s stores have seen great success with berries.

“Berries are one of the top-selling categories in the produce departments in Gelson’s,” says Kneeland. “We place berries next to cut-fruit sections in our stores in the hope of impulse sales. If a customer buys cut fruit and wants to sprinkle with berries — it is right there. We also push berries to the fronts of the departments in order to build the basket quickly. We advertise berries quite often in our stores to help generate customer traffic, probably 26 weeks a year.”

He also says it’s important to keep berries fresh, rotated and moving.

“If not, they will be a big disappointment to your customers,” says Kneeland. “People will make a choice on what markets to shop based on berry quality and assortment.”

Gabriel Wasserman, part of the promotion and marketing committee for the Argentinean Blueberry Committee, based in Buenos Aires, says that because berries are often an impulse buy, positioning is very important.

“Having the berries at first line of sight is the best way to attract more customers,” Wasserman says. “Many retail stores have the berries on a specific shelf at the entrance of the produce section. Blueberries have become the biggest revenue generator to retail chains among produce items, so we are lucky to have our product displayed in a premium spot within the produce section.

“Continuing to do that and creating promotional material will continue to help drive and increase demand.”

Brian Vertrees, director of business development (West), for Naturipe, notes consumers’ desire for organic produce continues to grow, and berries are a big factor in that trend.

“Organic fresh produce retail sales are just about at the $5 billion mark according to a recent OPN / Nielsen survey, and organic berries are playing a key role,” says Vertrees. “Within the last year, Naturipe grew organic berry programs to help meet this increasing demand. We are excited about the 2018 season and expect another strong year for our organic berry program.”

He suggests displaying a full berry patch in the produce section, showcasing blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and blackberries. “This is ideal for consumers looking to complete their cookout recipes, berry cocktails, appetizers and any other recipe dish,” he says.

Memorial Day and Fourth of July are perfect holidays to showcase berries because of taste and convenience. Even their colors are patriotic and can help make for a festive dessert.

“Normally we will try to promote a local berry and in multiples,” says Kneeland. “Multiples do have an affect on growing the basket size and typically will drive the customer to buy something else. We also like to do a mix-and-match where possible,” he says. “Berries are a staple at Gelson’s; we do see a lift around the holidays for sure.”

Vertrees has another suggestion for those summertime celebrations. “A buy-one-get-one promotion with our one-pound blueberries and one-pound strawberries will get consumers excited to start their holiday shopping,” he says.

Finding the Right Price

Kneeland says the best price points for berries are between $2.99 to $5.99, with promotional pricing ranging from $2 to $5.

“Organic berries are about a $1 more per package on average,” he says. “Large packs are normally priced double their smaller pack twin, plus take off $.50 to $1. Our customers love berries and will buy at multiple price points — more than $10 would be restrictive. Knowing they can find quality they can trust here at Gelson’s is a value increase.”

Jenkins of Wakefern says ideal price points for berries can fluctuate based on market conditions.

“But right now, the best price point is $1.99 for a pint of blueberries or strawberries,” he says. “When a pint of berries reaches a price point of about $4.99, that’s when a consumer might back away from it.”

One concern with berries is their perishability, and Wasserman says ads are by far the best way to increase demand for blueberries and other berries.

“With increasing production from different countries and areas, we think there are even greater opportunities for retailers to promote blueberries and have them on ads much more frequently,” he says. “It’s definitely a win-win situation, since the promotional activity boosts demand. That ensures product movement is fast, inventories are kept clean and prices back to growers are kept at reasonable levels.”

Fernando Skiarski, also of the Argentinean Blueberry Committee, adds consumption is impacted significantly by retail price and price size. “Consumers are looking for great value. That means a great product at a reasonable price. Pack size also influences. This statement is especially true for a 6-ounce pack. Larger packs such as pints or 18 ounces offer greater value to the consumer.”

Pairing Opportunities

Dan Crowley, vice president of sales for Well-Pict Berries, headquartered in Watsonville, CA, says a “berry patch” approach to marketing is an effective way to sell more berries. That means bringing in a variety of foods that complement strawberries, including angel food cake, melted chocolates and leafy greens.

“It’s all about helping shoppers to see how versatile these delicious berries are in a healthy, flavorful diet,” says Crowley. “Also, by setting up a strawberry and raspberry display at the front of the produce section, retailers can increase impulse purchases as shoppers walk by or enter the produce department.”

Villata says cross merchandising can emphasize many aspects of blueberries, including convenience, health benefits, flavor and versatility. He suggests capturing consumers’ interest by tying to lifestyle trends.

“For example, present consumers with a one-stop area for various supplies, pairing blueberries with other spring activity staples and food items,” he says, adding those items can include snack-sized plasticware for on-the-go snacking; mason jars for making jam and chutney; and grilling and dining supplies to inspire new ideas for cookouts.

Food pairings and recipes to promote in spring, says Villata, could include peanut butter and blueberries to put on toast for breakfast or ingredients for blueberry-French toast muffins for on-the-go eating. Also, use blueberries as an ingredient to make smoothies and as a component in blueberry maple barbecue sauce.

One of healthiest foods around

Any internet search about healthy foods is sure to result in a lot of articles about berries. They’re an excellent source of antioxidants. Blueberries contain fiber, potassium, folate and vitamin C. They have no cholesterol, making them a heart-healthy food, and their fiber can help reduce cholesterol, lowering the risk of heart disease.

Wish Farms’ Maloney says the healthy aspect of berries is well known but point-of-sales reminders still help.

“We have been promoting berries as a healthy food through our social media campaigns, which include healthy recipes, general health tips and partnering with health and nutrition bloggers,” she says. “Our message is pretty simple: Fresh berries are a healthy food that tastes good and is good for you.”

Crowley says promoting the health benefits of berries is a no-brainer. While citrus fruits are known to contain vitamin C, Crowley notes strawberries also are an excellent source.

“In addition to vitamin C, strawberries are a good source of potassium, folate, fiber and antioxidants,” says Crowley. “Strawberries are fat-free, saturated fat-free, sodium-free and cholesterol-free.”

Villata says produce departments should promote the benefits of blueberries, noting that a cup has 80 calories and virtually no fat. “They’re a good source of vitamin C and fiber, and are an excellent source of manganese,” he says. “Manganese plays an important role in bone development and in converting proteins, carbohydrates and fats into energy.”

Sue Harrell, director of marketing for the Florida Strawberry Growers Association, based in Plant City, FL, says another benefit of strawberries is they are a “nutrient-dense” fruit.

“According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, nutrient-dense foods are those providing the greatest amounts of vitamins and minerals with the fewest calories. Strawberries fill the bill,” she says.

Building on success

“Research shows consumers love berries, buy them frequently on a year-round basis, and when displayed together will buy more,” she says. “Therefore, we always encourage displaying different types of berries together. We also continue to emphasize a full display that features fresh product at all times. Berries are typically purchased based on appearance, so it is important for produce managers to keep displays enticing to build on sales.”

She adds Giant Berry Farms’ job is to help consumers by offering usage ideas, recipes and promotions.

“We recently read research published by the United Fresh Produce Association that said shoppers spend more money in the store when fresh produce is in the basket,” she says. “But 55 percent of trips to the grocery store don’t include produce — which tells me we still have a lot of work to do.”