A little promotion goes a long way for consistent winter fruit sales.
Offering the most extensive range of fruit in the Southern Hemisphere, Chile affords retailers a prime opportunity to continue fruit sales throughout winter into spring.
“Retailers can look to Chile for a counter-seasonal supply of all their favorite fruits, from cherries and blueberries to grapes and stone fruit (peaches, plums, nectarines),” says Karen Brux, managing director for the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association (CFFA) in San Carlos, CA.
In winter and spring, Chile is the main volume supplier of grapes, blueberries, cherries, stone fruits, apples, Clementines, kiwi and other items to North American retailers, according to Dionysios Christou, vice president of marketing for Del Monte Fresh Produce in Coral Gables, FL. “As consumer demand for fresh and clean eating continues to increase, it is important for retailers to promote high-quality products year-round,” he says. “Retailers promoting these nutritious, healthy and flavorful fruits, and keeping display sizes large, will continue to sell at high-frequency levels all season long.”
For retailers, Chile means an easy transition between sources.
“You know you’re going to have an easy move from U.S. grapes or peaches, or other sources of blueberries,” says Richard Stiles, director of produce and floral for Redner’s Markets, a Reading, PA-chain with 44 markets and 15 quick shops in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware. “Customers don’t want to be told there aren’t any blueberries or grapes. Chilean product ensures we continue to offer consistent availability, quality, and taste in our fruit program.”
Stores continuing to promote throughout the Chilean season will see a lift in sales. Andy Kampa, a grape category manager for Robinson Fresh in Eden Prairie, MN, says the grape crop this year is looking to have an overall increased volume over last year, meaning ample opportunity to promote.
John Pandol, director of special projects for Pandol Bros. in Delano, CA, cautions retailers not to plan just based on last year’s numbers. “Each season is different,” he says. “Retailers who plan ads as if this year will be the same as last are taking a risk and missing opportunity. It is almost certain that the first quarter of 2018 will not be the same as the first quarter of 2017, so planning should not be the same. Retail should be communicating with suppliers and making plans based on new information. Flexible, nimble retailers are the ones who win big.”
Since consumers already show a healthy interest in Chilean items, Megan Schulz, director of communications for the Giumarra Companies in Los Angeles, says retailers can leverage that popularity to push the categories even further this winter with unique recipe and usage ideas. “Think of all the holiday entertaining and eating opportunities that abound,” she says. “Be creative to help consumers think outside the box.”
Prime Product Trends
The Chilean season cycles through many preferred items to provide a wide range of fresh crop throughout the winter and early spring, according to Eric Coty, director of South American imports for Oppy in Chino Hills, CA. “Once known primarily for grapes and stone fruit, and later apples and kiwifruit, Chile now offers an excellent assortment of citrus and is emerging as a promising source of berries, especially with new blueberry varieties taking root,” he says.
Brux reports Chilean cherries and blueberries start as early as November, but the country’s main promotion season runs from January through March. “Many retailers like to run Chilean fruit festivals, which encompass more than one commodity,” she says. “The best timeframe for the greatest number of fruits is mid-February through mid-March. We also have some very interesting niche fruits available during limited time periods that are very effective in grabbing shoppers’ attention and driving sales, including lemon plums in February and Muscat grapes in April.”
Offering products with quick retail turns is touted by Mark Greenberg, president and chief executive of Capespan North America in Gloucester City, NJ, as a good way to get consumer traction. “The calculus is a balance between retail pricing and the quality of the products being offered, including the eating experience,” he says.
Organic and Fair Trade products represent an additional niche for Chilean fruit. Taste Me Do Good (TMDG) products, marketed by Interrupcion Fair Trade in Brooklyn, NY, include organic fair trade blueberries and apples from Chile. “This supply remains an important link in the consistency of organic fair trade fruit during the winter,” says Rafael Goldberg, chief executive. “Consumers are more educated than ever and interested in where their food is coming from. Our Chilean programs have great messages and activities relating to nutrition, social responsibility, and biodynamic practices.”
TMDG has invested in land to create a model farming hub. “Three years ago, we began growing our own organic fair trade blueberry supply,” says Goldberg. “We’re building a packing facility that we’ll use to provide service to other growers as well. And, we are developing a plant nursery.”
Pandol also encourages stores to merchandise imperfect or ugly fruit. “At times, smaller-sized grapes trade at a substantial discount to normal- or larger-sized grapes,” he says. “With FOB prices sometimes at half or a third of the normal prices, retailers can offer a great bargain to customers and promote it as something different.”
Variety to Differentiate
Retailers are encouraged to take advantage of offering new varieties.
“Providing new varieties helps stores offer guests the chance to experience something different,” says Robinson’s Kampa. “Last year, there were roughly 60 varieties shipped to the United States from Chile, and I expect that number to increase this year. The industry has evolved in the past five years in terms of varieties — we look for growers with staple varieties, as well as varieties that are distinguishable via flavor and appearance.”
“There is so much opportunity to sell in other departments, whether cross-merchandising with meat or seafood, or promoting the product as a snack item at checkout. For example, we put blueberries in the dairy department by the yogurt.”
— Richard Stiles, Redner’s Markets
Greenberg predicts new varieties will assume greater importance in the imported table grape deal. “Growers in the United States and elsewhere in the table grape-producing world are responding to the need to offer a better-tasting product to compete for consumer attention in a very competitive and increasingly ‘busy’ fresh fruit category.”
Kampa suggests retailers provide variety-specific information as a marketing tool. “Retailers can call out the variety in the ad, giving them an advantage over the competition,” he says. “Often, if a competitor is on the ad it only says ‘premium red seedless,’ so touting a specific variety in the ad differentiates your store to your customers.”
Opportunity also abounds with increasing blueberry varieties.
“Some blueberry varieties that seem to be working well so far in Chile are Top Shelf and Cargo,” says Oppy’s Coty. “Nurseries continue to innovate and develop varieties performing well based on early-, mid- and late-season harvest, as well as climate and chill hours.”
Regardless of variety or price, retailers are warned to consider quality first.
“Grapes, for example, are highly responsive to promotional pricing,” says Greenberg. “But, one needs to ensure the retailer has the quality of product that will allow consumers to feel good about the lower retail price they are being offered.”
A successful display is a combination of numerous elements, according to CFFA’s Brux. “Certainly, a large display at the entrance of the produce section, accompanied by ad pricing, is very effective,” she says. “We also recommend using a niche fruit, like lemon plums, to generate interest in peaches/plums/nectarines, or Muscat grapes to raise the profile of the mainstream green/red/black grapes.”
The key, according to Coty, is to draw attention with quality produce rotated regularly and presenting an excellent impression of freshness and flavor. “High-graphic bags are favored by many retailers as a means to achieve this,” he says. “We’re also seeing more retailers, especially in Canada, prefer top seal-style packaging, which reduces waste while still making a strong visual impact.”
Redner’s puts grapes front and center because they are a key item. “They are tonnage items for us,” says Stiles. “Grapes are good impulse items, so if you have them out where people can see them, you often spark everyone to buy a bag.”
Kampa agrees just because it’s winter doesn’t mean grapes should be hidden. “Space and variety drive sales, as well as proper product placement in the department,” he says.
Brian Gibbons, produce director at Highland Park Market in Farmington, CT, suggests blocking all the Chilean fruit together. “Put proper signage so customers realize they can actually get great fruit they typically buy in the summer months,” he says. “The whole point is to educate customers they can still get fresh fruit at the peak of Chile’s season, even though it is winter.”
Chilean fruit should be merchandised throughout the store.
“There is so much opportunity to sell in other departments, whether cross-merchandising with meat or seafood, or promoting the product as a snack item at checkout,” says Stiles. “For example, we put blueberries in the dairy department by the yogurt.”
Del Monte encourages retailers to develop secondary displays at check out. “Secondary displays help generate impulse buys and definitely play a beneficial role in cross-merchandising,” says Christou. “Whether the display is near the checkout lanes or next to a specific product that pairs well with Chilean fruit, our secondary display program has proven to be a success.”
Ads, demos and POS information all contribute to successful retail merchandising of Chilean fruit. Robinson Fresh supports multiple marketing channels, including social media, in-store activities, and sampling, among others. “We make sure we attack all verticals when pursuing the consumer,” says Robinson Fresh’s Kampa.
The Chilean Fresh Fruit Association designs custom promotions with retailers across the United States and Canada. “Programs, including digital coupons, display contests, volume incentive programs and social media contests, regularly generate double-digit sales increases,” says CFFA’s Brux. “Display promotions and demos continue to be popular with retailers. We have started partnering with regional and national retailers on digital coupon programs consistently generating double-digit redemption rates.”
“With several new varieties emerging in grapes, apples, berries and stone fruit, sampling is a good way to illustrate just how fresh fruit from Chile tastes.”
— Eric Coty, Oppy
Oppy’s Coty advocates sampling as a way to introduce shoppers to new tastes. “With several new varieties emerging in grapes, apples, berries and stone fruit, sampling is a good way to illustrate just how fresh fruit from Chile tastes,” he says.
Del Monte recommends retailers develop targeted promotional and merchandising material to educate consumers on both usage and nutrition. “This includes, among others, eye-catching POS for displays, in-store demos and cross-merchandising with complementary products,” says Christou. “Recipe cards and coupons can help boost consumption of a particular fruit. Demos of blueberries and specialty items always increase trial.”
Highland Park’s Gibbons suggests having something in the store flier advertising the freshness of Chilean Fruit. “Include something like ‘Did you know Chile grows fresh peaches, nectarines, grapes and blueberries now?’” he says. “Then have POS material to back it up in-store, such as ‘Peak of the Season’ or ‘Growing Fresh in Chile now.’”
Chilean blueberries are crucial for Redner’s store ad. “These are an item we can use to pull people in the store because we have them,” says Stiles. “The worst-case scenario would be my competitor advertising blueberries and I don’t.”
Pandol suggests stores can capitalize on promoting the fresh and affordable aspect of blueberries. “Tell customers they can afford fresh again,” he says. “Recapture those smoothie-makers who abandoned the produce department for the frozen food aisle.”
CFFA employs three merchandisers to manage promotions throughout the United States and Canada. “We try to get as creative as possible, drawing in shoppers and getting them excited about buying fresh Chilean fruit,” says Brux. “In addition to running numerous displays and sampling programs, we also started working with Northgate Gonzalez Markets, a major California Hispanic chain, on their kids cooking program called, ‘Miguelitos Cocina Club.’ In early 2017, we sponsored kids’ classes in Northgate’s 41 stores. Kids made blueberry yogurt swirls (other sponsors were Dannon and General Mills) and received blueberry activity booklets.”
According to Alfonso Cano, produce director at Northgate Gonzalez Markets, headquartered in Anaheim, CA, one of the advantages of Chilean fruit is its prime season occurs when kids are in school. “This affords us a great ability to promote to kids,” he says. “The educational opportunities are fun because we can really promote great-tasting, healthy products and educate kids where the product is from. Chile does a great job branding their fruit.”
Redner’s makes good use of the “Fresh Fruit from Chile” POP material. “They give outstanding support to retailers,” says Stiles. “I especially like the bins they provide. We do out-of-department displays using those bins, and they really stand out.”