To boost sales, bring them top of mind for consumers, and make them as convenient as possible.
Originally printed in the May 2022 issue of Produce Business.
Peaches, particularly those grown in the Southeast U.S., are the first summer fruit to hit stores each season. The peach season in Florida starts as early as March and goes through mid-May, while in Georgia it lasts from May until August. These peaches are sold throughout most of the United States, from the East Coast and all the way to the Rocky Mountains, and as far north as Minnesota.
“Our customers really know summer has arrived when they start seeing the Southeastern peach on the shelf. And that’s what they’ve always associated with getting out of school and going on vacation and cookouts and hot weather. It’s just synonymous with that,” says Will McGehee, partner at Genuine Georgia Group, a sales and marketing partnership that consists of five commercial peach farms in Georgia.
“The Southeastern peaches are nostalgic and customers wait each summer for those peaches to come in.”
So what makes the Southeastern peach so special? Great flavor, says Earl McGrath, director of produce operations at Freshfields Farm, with locations in Jacksonville and Orlando, FL.
“The juiciness of a good Southeastern peach is hard to beat. If a customer needs a napkin to clean up after eating one, you know they were satisfied with what they just ate, and they’ll be back looking for more,” he says.
However, not everything is rosy in peachland: According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), U.S. peach production was cut in half from 2010 to 2018. At the same time, consumption of peaches and nectarines fell precipitously, never reaching more than 2 pounds since 2014. Prior to that, there were consistently over 5 pounds of peaches and nectarines consumed in the U.S. every year.
Despite that downturn, there’s still tremendous value to be had in selling this product. The key is to help bring them top of mind for consumers, and make them as convenient as possible.
GET THEM MOVING
One thing to note about peaches is their relatively short shelf life, lasting three to four days on the counter. That’s compared to five to seven days for apples, seven to 14 days for grapes, and two to three weeks for oranges.
That’s why it’s imperative to get consumers interested in peaches by putting them front and center, making them “eye-catching as soon as the consumer reaches the produce department, or steps into the store,” said Mike Blume, vice president of sales and marketing at Keystone Fruit Marketing.
“We recommend that retailers display loose and bagged peaches together in order to provide choices to the consumer. Secondary displays, loose or bagged, are a great way to generate additional impulse sales,” Blume says.
He adds that recipes or storage tips and tricks are always beneficial, and “all displays should be worked throughout the day, keeping them fresh and full.”
At Freshfields Farm, peaches are given “front-and-center attention with large displays,” said McGrath.
“We typically kick off the season with Florida-grown peaches from Florida Classic Growers and then transition to Genuine Georgia’s Lane Southern Orchard peaches,” he says. “Regular customers often just start asking about peaches as the season approaches. For those who aren’t aware of seasonality, you need to get the word out on social media.”
It’s not entirely up to retailers to drive sales, though; individual states also have their own campaigns to make consumers aware that peach season has arrived.
For example, Florida has its “Fresh From Florida” marketing campaign, which Donna Watson, industry communications, division of marketing and development, at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, says, “promotes Florida peaches during peak season by sharing recipes and peach farmer videos through social media platforms.”
“Fresh From Florida” also partners with retailers to promote peaches through circular ads, point-of-purchase signage and in-store displays, she adds.
Meanwhile, the South Carolina Department of Agriculture provides support to retailers in their marketing of South Carolina peaches, explains Katie Pfeiffer, market development coordinator for the South Carolina Department of Agriculture.
“Each summer, we distribute point-of-purchase materials to around 500 grocery store locations — and this year, we have some exciting new items to share, featuring farmer profiles, recipes and storage tips for Certified South Carolina produce,” Pfeiffer says.
“We offer free channel strips, aisle interrupters, produce bins, standing signs and more. We also help create co-branded signage to meet individual retailer’s needs, because we know how important eye-catching displays and promotions are to impulse purchases like local goods.”
In addition, the department also provides support to growers, through grants like its Market Development Trade Show and Educational Conference Cost Share Program, which use Specialty Crop Block Grant funds to offer partial funding for producers to attend certain trade shows and conferences.
“Trade shows are a great way for producers to explore new markets and foster relationships with regional retailers, wholesalers and foodservice buyers. We also host our own events for producers, including the new Certified SC Showcase, a trade show-style networking and education event,” said Pfeiffer.
Another way to help get peaches into the hands of the consumer is to change how they’re packaged and sold. Rather than having customers rifle through and bag their own peaches off of bulk displays, there’s an increasing demand for prepackaged fruit, making it easier for consumers to just pick up and go.
That includes plastic trays, as well as pouch bags, which will have eight or nine peaches in them. This is easier for the retailer, as all they have to do is just put that case out on display, and easier for the customer, as they just grab the bag right out of the case and scan it at the register.
“I believe there are more peaches in trays and bags than there were years ago. Especially when trying to move smaller-sized fruit, bags really help increase the total amount the poundage that a customer will buy,” says McGrath. “Standup pouch bags are a nice option that can really showcase the product well. Peaches are appealing to the eye, so it’s important that any packaging doesn’t hide the star of the show, the fruit,” says McGrath.
“Peaches are appealing to the eye, so it’s important packaging doesn’t hide the star of the show, the fruit.”— Earl McGrath, Freshfields Farm
Pfeiffer agreed, and notes, “A diverse selection of peach items, such as packs, varieties, etc., increases overall sales. Traditional volume fill displays are always a great way to promote peaches, and we think they will be key this year.”
These types of displays are not only more convenient, but they have also become necessary in the wake of COVID-19.
“People can just grab the bag right out of the case. The produce personnel don’t have to touch it. The customer doesn’t have to touch it. It literally goes from my farm and the next hand that touches it will be the kid’s hand or the mom’s hand in the kitchen,” McGehee explains. Consumers are embracing this new type of packaging and, most importantly, it’s actually leading to more people buying peaches, helping reach customers who didn’t buy them before.
“Two of our retailers shared with us, independently, that most of those customers were not buying peaches before the pouch was given to them. So, it actually brought customers into the category,” McGehee says.
“It wasn’t like we were trading people who used to buy off bulk displays: The bag and the packaging actually bring in more consumers into the stone fruit category and are growing the category, which is music to all of our ears.”
THE INFLATION EFFECT
Inflation, which is the worst it’s been in 40 years, is affecting all produce, peaches included.
“Our fertilizer has tripled, and the cost of our corrugated boxes and our plastics and packaging have gone up over 50%. Labor has edged up, freight has gone just through the roof. I mean, it is easily costing us twice more in freight than it was just three years ago,” says McGehee.
“There are real costs associated with the price increase on most produce right now — because anybody that’s growing fresh produce, we’re all in the same game.”
Keystone’s Blume adds transportation continues to be a struggle, and will likely be a challenge this spring and summer. “Freight costs have reached historical highs, with no sign of improvement any time soon. Advanced notice on all orders will be crucial in securing transportation and ensuring on-time delivery.”
According to Christina Morton, director of communications at the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, there have been disruptions throughout the agricultural supply chain across the board for months.
“Florida growers of peaches and the various other specialty crops grown around the state are experiencing rising costs like they have never seen before. This includes rising costs and shortages for various inputs — from workers in the field to drivers on the road, from shortages of agrichemicals and fertilizer to packaging materials, and more,” she reports.
“Whether or not this impacts the price of peaches for consumers remains to be seen. But despite all of these challenges, our growers, packers and shippers are working every day to get domestically grown food shipped out to American consumers.”
While this potentially points to higher prices (Genuine Georgia Group, for example, says its prices this summer will be about 15% over 2021, as compared to the usual increase of 1% to 3%), not everyone thinks it will be so bad. In fact, Ginny Gohagan, executive director of the South Carolina Peach Council, believes Southeastern peaches won’t be hit as hard due to their unique position in the market.
“Southeastern peaches have a great advantage in this economic climate: They are affordable,” she explains. “For customers across the Eastern U.S., it costs less to ship Southeastern peaches, and they’re fresher and more delicious when they arrive. Peaches evoke summer and sweet, simple pleasures, and we think consumers will be eager to add some to their shopping cart as long as the price is right.”
PUSH THE PEAK
When it comes to peaches, the ones grown in the Southeast are probably the most famous — and desired. Yet, people don’t seem to know when peak peach season hits. That’s why the key is getting people to be aware of when these peaches are available and making it as convenient as possible for people to buy them.
“Peaches are probably an item that consumers ask about more than any other item when we don’t have them in stock,” says McGrath. “As a retailer, I think it’s important to only carry an item when the eating quality is what would leave a customer wanting to come back for more. That means you must highlight the seasonality, flavor and quality of Southeastern peaches.”