Marketing Spring Produce

OnionsPhotos Courtesy of Vidalia Onion Committee

Tapping into holidays and merchandising promos will put spring vegetables top of mind.

Bok ChoyMarketing spring produce is, at its base, more art than science. According to suppliers of springtime produce, retailers can take advantage of marketing their produce in a number of ways — from merchandising and holiday opportunities to packaging and promotions.

The first and most obvious step, however, is making sure to have a consistent supply on hand. John Shuman, president of Shuman Produce in Reidsville, GA, says that his company’s year-round sweet onion program provides retailers with the ability to maintain a strong level of consistency and premium quality in their sweet onion offerings. “A consistent supply of sweet onions means retailers can take advantage of an increased ring at the register year-round. Research shows that sweet onions — more specifically the Vidalia — drive the category along with the sale of other produce items. Baskets containing sweet onions are roughly 40 percent larger than those that do not.”

Sweet onion shoppers are likely to be fresh and healthy shoppers who prefer home-cooked meals, purchase premium specialty items and likely buy products commonly used in Mexican and Italian meals.

Shuman Produce markets Vidalia sweet onions during the late spring and summer as part of its year-round RealSweet program. The Vidalia onion is the benchmark of its business and, says Shuman, “the industry our family has been a part of for more than three decades.”

Aside from having consistent supply, there are ways to market spring produce.

Merchandising: This essential part of the retailer’s craft not only puts product in front of consumers’ eyes, but does so in a way designed to spur trial.

“Supermarkets should keep displays stocked and fresh during the season in order to maximize selling opportunities when artichokes are in highest demand,” says Diana McClean, director of marketing for Ocean Mist Farms, Castroville, CA. Her company offers display bins and POS materials to all retailers to support these specialty items.

McClean says cross-merchandising is a great way to support sales lift during the spring holidays. Promoting artichokes along with pairing suggestions, such as olive oil, garlic, dips, lemon and mayonnaise, offer additional opportunities for increased sales across categories. Retailers should also consider using a secondary display in a high-traffic area to increase product.

“Cross-merchandising is a great way to support sales lift during the spring holidays… Retailers should consider using a secondary display in a high-traffic area to increase product.”

— Diana McClean, Ocean Mist Farms

Dennis Diekemper, general manager of J.R. Kelly Company, a supplier of horseradish roots in Collinsville, IL, says that it is best to wrap horseradish when it is on retail display to keep it from dehydrating. “Labeling it with a label or tag with instructions on preparing the fresh root will help the consumer prepare the root.” J.R. Kelly shrinkwraps and labels the roots. If retailers prefer not to have them wrapped, the company will also tag roots with instructions.

For spring fruits like berries, Christine B. Christian, senior vice president of the California Strawberry Commission in Watsonville, CA, suggests that retailers maintain larger extended strawberry displays through late summer. “Include complementary items such as crepes, dessert shells, angel food cakes, whipped cream, yogurt and granola to drive additional impulse purchases,” says Christian. Secondary displays in bakery, dairy, cereal aisles and salad bars will also drive incremental sales.

The Vidalia onion season typically launches the third week in April, representing one of the key spring items for the produce department. To celebrate the season launch, retailers typically build large displays, as well as secondary displays with Vidalia bins, since consumers look for the Vidalia brand when in season.

“Our national consumer research shows that 91 percent of consumers surveyed recognize the Vidalia onion brand; one-third of consumers would be willing to pay more for Vidalia onions,” says Susan A. Waters, executive director of the Vidalia Onion Committee in Vidalia, GA.

In addition to adding high-graphic bins of Vidalia onions as secondary displays, Waters recommends retailers merchandise the high-graphic bags with the bulk Vidalia onions. “Consumers prefer to have choices,” she says, “and the bags provide valuable information, including recipes and nutritional benefits.”

“Our national consumer research shows that 91 percent of consumers surveyed recognize the Vidalia onion brand; one-third of consumers are willing to pay more for Vidalia onions.”

— Susan A. Waters, Vidalia Onion Committee

The Vidalia Onion Committee recommends that retailers cross-promote the onion with related items — tomatoes, packaged salad, cucumbers, tomatoes, avocados and more. “We can provide retailers with a wide variety of recipes to include on the display or online. We also have recipes like Vidalia Peach Salsa to combine flavors of two springtime favorites,” says Waters. “Vidalia onions are versatile on the grill, so we recommend retailers set up a secondary display in other areas of the store to cross-promote them with burgers, buns and related grilling accessories.”

Celebrating the spring season with cross-promotions and secondary displays provides a “merchandising best practices” presentation for produce executives.

As Shuman Produce’s retail partners know, “display drives sales, which is the reason we provide bags, bins and boxes that complement each other and feature our product with bright and colorful imagery to draw consumers’ eyes and attention,” says Shuman. “We suggest placing RealSweet brand sweet onions in the center of the produce department for maximum effect.”

“Through partnerships with brands inside and outside the produce department, we can help drive sales of a variety of items.”

— John Shuman, Shuman Produce

Shuman advises produce retailers that the seasonality and reputation of Vidalia onions, paired with their inherent versatility, means they are prized by consumers during their window of availability. “We recommend using large displays for Vidalia onions when the season begins in late April. We also suggest secondary displays outside of the produce department during peak season, and holiday promotions to take advantage of the incremental sales increase during this time.”

Holidays: Playing off the holidays has always been a favorite approach for retailers to promote and move product. J. R. Kelly’s Diekemper points out that there is a large demand for horseradish root during Easter and Passover. “It is used as the bitter herb on the seder plate. It also is a great condiment with ham for Easter and as an ingredient in deviled eggs.”

Horseradish Root

Horseradish root is in demand during the Passover and Easter holidays. (Photo Courtesy of J.R. Kelly)

For strawberries, the key holidays are Valentine’s Day, Easter, Memorial Day and Fourth of July. “Upsize to larger packages to generate incremental dollar sales on and off promotion,” says California Strawberry Commission’s Christian. “Carry long-stem strawberries in upscale areas and place berries at the front of the department. Mix up your promotion strategy and advertise often. Promote the 1-pound package regularly and all other package sizes to increase incremental sales.”

Christian also recommends retailers promote pre-holiday, holiday and post-holiday weeks to maximize sales and minimize shrink.

Packaging: Consumers love options and value, which is why Christian recommends that retailers maximize sales by offering 1-pound conventional and organic berries throughout the year and upsizing to the 2- and 4-pound packages during peak availability.

She also recommends that stores increase total produce sales by creating what she calls “the ultimate berry category destination” and building larger, more impactful displays.

Promotions: Shuman’s retailer-level on-pack instant redeembale coupon campaign has proven highly successful the past several years. “Through partnerships with brands inside and outside the produce department, we can help drive sales of a variety of items. We ship bags of our RealSweet Vidalia onions to participating retail partners with an on-pack coupon already attached to the front of each bag,” says Shuman.

Along with offers from each of the partner products, each retailer-specific coupon booklet features a recipe that includes all of the items. The consumer gets the added value of a meal solution along with discounted ingredients, while the retailer has a built-in cross-merchandising tool that results in a larger basket at check-out. By creating a unified display showcasing these products, the retailer can provide consumers with convenience and positively affect purchasing behavior.

Employing these and other strategies lets retailers help their shoppers welcome the return of the spring bounty that accompanies them.