A short season yields plenty of potential for profits and happy customers.
New Jersey has been growing peaches since the 1600s. According to the New Jersey Peach Promotion Council (NJPPC) in Glassboro, NJ, it was one of the first states to plant peach trees. “And the trees thrived,” says Pegi Adam, NJPPC promotions and public relations. “We have ideal soil and climate along with a winter freeze, which is important to setting peach buds.”
Over the centuries, New Jersey peaches have become synonymous with the sweet taste of summer in the Northeast. Buyers now have more reasons than ever to source Jersey Fresh peaches according to Tom Beaver, director, division of marketing and development for the New Jersey Department of Agriculture in Trenton, NJ.
“Given our proximity to major markets, we have a significant competitive advantage,” he says. “Jersey Fresh peaches are picked at peak ripeness, then packed and shipped within hours. The industry has continued to evolve, with growers making significant investments in new varieties assuring the perfect blend of size, color and flavor consumers are looking for.”
New Jersey peaches are very important at retail and especially in New Jersey ShopRite stores, maintains Derrick Jenkins, vice president of produce and floral for ShopRite in Keasbey, NJ, with 276 stores. “The fruit is an important part of our ShopRite locally grown program and a reminder of the important relationship our ShopRite stores have with local farmers,” he says. “Jersey peaches also earn the Jersey Fresh logo, the state agriculture department’s program, highlighting produce grown in the Garden State.”
According to the NJPPC, the state currently has 5,000 acres of peach trees over 75 orchards. Bob Von Rohr, customer relations/marketing for Sunny Valley International in Glassboro, NJ, (the exclusive sales and marketing agent for Just Picked brand peaches) notes the New Jersey peach season is projected to start around the first of July and run through the middle September. “Weather over the winter has been favorable and we are looking at a full crop of tasty peaches,” he says.
ADVANTAGE OF LOCAL
Proximity to customers means everything for New Jersey. “NJ peaches generally have a high sugar-acid ratio, and thus better flavor because they are picked closer to tree ripeness,” says Van Rohr. “Our peaches have unique tastes, with a full range of flavor because of all the types and varieties.”
Beaver emphasizes ripeness and taste as key for retailers, because these are the attributes consumers look for when making purchasing decisions. “Our peaches are grown within 250 miles of more than 45 million consumers, picked at peak ripeness and hydro- or water-cooled to lock in perfect sugar-to-acid ratio,” he says. “They are shipped to retail outlets in major Northeastern markets more quickly than peaches from anywhere else.”
Redner’s Markets in Reading, PA, with 43 stores, appreciates what Jersey peaches bring to its produce environment. “New Jersey is right in our backyard and well known for fresh produce,” says Mark Cotê, produce merchandiser. “Once our customers see a Jersey-grown sign, sales escalate. People love to buy peaches grown and harvested so close.”
Freshness and taste benefit from longer tree time and lower transport time. “We have an ideal product for the supermarkets within the tri-state area,” says Tom Holtzhauser, co-owner and operator of Holtzhauser Farms in Mullica Hill, NJ. “To have Jersey fruit in the store means you’re getting fruit freshly picked and moved. It hasn’t sat around or been transported for a week.”
Everybody wants the product as ripe as possible, explains Santo John Maccherone, owner of Circle M Farms in Salem, NJ, and current chair of the NJPPC. “The closer you get to maturity, the better size, color and flavor you get,” he says. “But, there is a window where you can only go so far. Thus proximity to market really helps.”
Steve Riccelli, buyer and sales at T.M. Kovacevich in Philadelphia, agrees Jersey peaches offer a greater chance of a tastier peach. “The growers try to pick them with the highest brix possible, yet still ensure they’ll hold up under shipping,” he says. “I also don’t have to load 20 pallets and plan to sell 20 within three days of arrival. I can load 10 pallets and get them every night and they’re fresh packed.”
Although New Jersey boasts more than 100 different varieties, most growers and marketers agree marketing is more about the Jersey name. “Each variety is different from the other in terms of texture, ripening process, scent, exterior look and taste,” says Holtzhauser. “Every single peach has its own distinct size, flavor and appearance. However, all my customers want is a piece of fruit that tastes good. And if it doesn’t taste good, they’ll come back and tell you.”
Riccelli witnesses a more general focus on promoting New Jersey peaches with respect to freshness and flavor. “The growers manage the varieties to meet their needs, but once it’s packed, it’s really just about the taste and freshness of the Jersey peach,” he says.
According to Maccherone, the common thread among the Jersey varieties is attention to flavor. “Rutgers University [Agricultural Research and Extension Center] always evaluates flavor in our varieties,” he says. “We focus on flavor, whereas other production areas focus more on hardiness as the main trait because they have longer shipping times.”
Variety is expanding with respect to flesh color and unique items. The NJPPC reports yellow-fleshed peaches comprise 84% of Jersey peaches; white-fleshed peaches comprise 6%; and yellow and white-fleshed nectarines comprise 9%.
“White peaches are increasingly popular,” says Adam. “They are very flavorful and sweet.”
Donut peaches (or flat-shaped Saturn peaches) are another delicious offering to amp up Jersey peach season displays. “They are ideal for kids snacks and lunch boxes,” says Adam. “Also, don’t forget about nectarines — which are basically fuzz-less peaches. We grow and market nectarines during the same season.”
Adam says key promotional time at retail should be during July and August, “when production really reaches its peak,” she says.
For best results, merchandise Jersey-grown peaches in large displays. “Make them very visible,” says Maccherone. “Customers are looking for them because they know they are good-eating peaches.”
Redner’s Cotê notes the three pillars of effective Jersey peach merchandising are design, signage and quality. “In design, the display must be shoppable 100 percent all four ways with nothing blocking it,” he says. “Use signage to draw attention to the fact the peaches are there. And always have quality product on display. Just two or three bad peaches in the display will turn customers off and they’ll walk away.”
Though some stores may be cautious about pricing, Holtzhauser advises shoppers will pay for Jersey fruit. “Put the money issue aside and know that when you live near farm country and the customers know the fruit is right here, you should be promoting it,” he says. “People love the farms. They want to see Jersey fruit when they go into a store in the summer.
“Have a sign with the farm name. Most consumers are willing to pay a higher price for local product. I have farmers’ market customers who buy hundreds of boxes. They’re moving the fruit and selling it at a premium price.”
Stores utilize ads and POS to draw customer attention. “We get ads in our circular as soon as the season starts,” says Cotê. “We’ll run the ads through July and August. We also do a lot of POS or banners — anything to attract shoppers to the display.”
Cross-merchandising with peaches increases department ring. “We suggest stores pair peaches with complementary products, such as peach cider, peach pie ingredients, or salad ingredients,” says NJPPC’s Adam.
Merchandising support is available from suppliers as well as promotional organizations. The NJPPC offers a variety of tools for store use. “We have two sets of brochures with recipes, health and nutrition tips,” says Adam. “We also have downloadable price cards and reusable shopping bags for promotion with shoppers. These are available free of charge.”
New Jersey Department of Ag’s Beaver advises retailers to leverage the prominence of the Jersey Fresh marketing program. “We work with produce buyers and retail partners to offer turnkey Jersey Fresh marketing solutions, including a suite of point-of-sale materials provided at no cost,” he says. “Additionally, by tapping into the Jersey Fresh brand, produce retailers benefit from the collateral marketing work we do including comprehensive billboard, radio and social media advertising campaigns throughout the season.”
The Department’s efforts have the support of the NJPPC and the Jersey Fruit co-op, the largest marketer of Jersey Fresh peaches. “Collectively, they’ve supplemented our broader Jersey Fresh advertising campaign with peach-specific promotions including unique billboards, print ads and social media content,” says Beaver.