Mobility, flexibility offers greater merchandising options for retailers, which translates into greater sales.
Originally printed in the June 2022 issue of Produce Business.
A produce department with a fresh, modern appearance can attract new shoppers and retain existing customers. And that appearance goes beyond colorful, quality produce — a supermarket can boost sales through its produce display units and refrigeration equipment, and building with flexibility.
A successful produce department includes “layout and flow of the department, equipment (fixed vs. mobile or self-contained), and merchandising accessories, to accommodate whole produce as well as cut produce in a variety of packaging sizes,” says Kim Camp, manager of marketing communications at merchandiser Dover Food Retail in Conyers, GA.
It’s also important to be able to change a department around quickly. “Whether you go from refrigerated mobile units to dry, there is a need to drive sales and differentiate from the next guy,” says Ken Brine, owner/partner at manufacturer representative Advanced Equipment Sales (AES) Group in Sharon, MA.
Illustrating that flexibility, Chris Schotsman, vice president of sales and marketing at manufacturer Cayuga Displays in Cayuga, Ontario, Canada, points to Wegman’s, which displays strawberries, whipped cream and shortcake together via dry shelving and refrigerated cases. They reconfigure for seasonality and changes in demand.
“They are one of the premier retailers, and are leaders in being able to repurpose their merchandising displays very quickly,” says Schotsman. “Their displays are not like large, fixed islands, where you can’t shift or move them around. They put dozens of refrigerated displays throughout the store, especially in the produce department.”
Mobility offers merchandising options. “I recommend having some flexible mobile units amidst typical perimeter built-in cases, especially at the front of departments. Switch it out: Put produce inside modular, accentuate with food items on the outside,” says Jonathan Raduns, principal, retail strategy and food merchandising advisor at retail consultant Merchandise Food in Cherry Hill, NJ.
SERVE THE CUSTOMER
Convenience is king, and supermarkets should have the proper equipment to stock the bagged salads, cut fruit packages and meal solutions customers demand.
“It’s the whole idea of a ‘produce butcher,’ with precut peppers or carrots so you buy it all ready to go, like a stir fry kit,” Schotsman says. “Veggie noodles — I don’t know how much that is trending, but it was — you can even get beet or carrot noodles.”
Having self facing display equipment keeps products front and center, and easy for customers to see and grab. Blanc Display Group in Dover, NJ, manufactures Self Facing Units (SFU) for pizzas, grab ’n go, pre-sliced deli, and various packaged produce items. “Our SFU/SMT helps the retailer maintain displays, allocations and helps reduce shrink,” says Michael Brady, vice president of sales and marketing.
Produce is often the first area shoppers enter, so visual attraction is critical. A mix of colors, textures and shapes creates interest. Baskets, bins, and pottery on risers add style. Display cases in multiple bin configurations can draw customers and entice them to buy, Camp says.
Blanc Display Group makes shelf strips, category heads and item inserts, ideal for destination categories such as organics, tomatoes and herbs. “We can provide signage for all perishable departments. We can also manufacture and provide the printed elements for wood and wire displays to help cross-merchandise fresh product throughout a store,” Brady says.
Lighting enhances display units, and with LED lighting, even misted produce will pop. “The LED lights we have are waterproof, so if you use a misting system it will not affect it. We are certified for wet applications,” says Brine of AES Group.
“There has been a trend toward LED lighting, especially with the newer cases,” says Jose Cartamil of manufacturer Carlson AirFlo Merchandising Systems in Brooklyn, MN.
“All AirFlo’s shelving lines, offer LED lighting to improve visibility and create a show-stopping display.”
Tall, refrigerated cases attract interest, and fit more produce variety. “We are also seeing more cases with doors, even in the produce department,” Cartamil adds.
MATERIALS AND TECHNOLOGY
To control moisture and beautifully display produce, anodized aluminum is a material of choice. The shelving will not rust, chip or flake, like powder-coated steel shelving. “We primarily use anodized aluminum shelving and racking displays. Aluminum is one of the better cold conductors, keeping products fresher, longer,” Cartamil says. He adds the AirFlo racking and shelving are also perforated to provide more air circulation, keep water from pooling and bacteria from building.
“When you take a piece of aluminum, it goes through a series of acid washes or baths, so it basically opens up the pore of the aluminum. In essence, the color becomes part of the molecular structure of the anodized aluminum. You can’t scratch or peel it off, making it more food-safe than other processes,” he adds.
In refrigeration equipment, natural refrigerants continue to trend. “From CO2 to R-290, natural refrigerants are here to stay and the portfolio of display cases is growing with these natural refrigerants to help protect the global environment,” Camp says.
In addition to materials and refrigeration, stores must focus on tracking the large number of stock-keeping units (SKUs) on their shelves.
“There has been a huge technology change, especially in inventory replenishment software programs, which can help retailers manage inventory levels and have less out-of-stock issues,” Brady says.
Retailers can also use Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) to track inventory, according to Troy White, vice president at grocery equipment supplier Bradley Industries in O’Fallon, MO. Similar to barcode technology, RFID uses radio waves to capture data, but reads stored data without seeing the tag or label.
The produce department maintains its edge via great products, display units, merchandising and layouts — and keeping up with trends.
Merchandise Food has noticed the trend of small, mobile units of 115 V power and on-floor refrigeration units for berries and shortcakes or guacamole. “One unit I really like is a 2-foot unit mobilizer — a low format, open 2- or 4-foot-wide mobile refrigerator. That is one that I commonly promote for clients. It could hold any prepared foods — fresh-cut fruit and produce could go in. It is a value-added piece. You could pop them throughout the store,” Raduns says.
“We are seeing destination islands, where they are putting bulk, bagged and prepackaged, for the same item — like potatoes,” White says. “And if everyone who wants a potato, sees a rustic potato and picks that instead, the profit margin goes up.”
Aesthetics are trending, so Cayuga Displays has integrated refrigerated and nonrefrigerated units with a common finish to reduce visual noise. “There are a couple of other companies that do similar things, but we like to think that ours blends more in seamlessly,” Schotsman says.
Another trend is replacing Euro tables with groupings of products: pods on risers or shelves, such as aluminum curved pods. Brine of AES Group says there are two ways to mount a curved pod — on a bar and on a grid. “This is the way to highlight and differentiate product, instead of putting on a flat shelf. You might have one type of apple, and another type of apple next to it.”
To address the labor shortage trend, Carlson AirFlo has created new products. The ELITE Self Facer is for pre-packaged products (clamshells, bagged salad, bagged vegetables). The Glide RollerShelf is for beverages, juices, and salad dressings. Its top trending item is the Shelf Self Facer, with different depths and widths to accommodate various shelving.
“Our systems alleviate some of the labor demands of constantly restocking product, as they sell down if not well faced. By applying self-facing products, your products remain always well faced, always in stock and selling position while looking well organized and attractive looking to retail customers,” Cartamil says.
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DISPLAY SOLUTIONS FOR SMALL STORES
To maximize sales, small grocery stores may switch from tables to bins, utilize low shelves, and add taller cases and dry shelving. But height is limited to 50 inches.
“They know vertical is the way to go, but they know if you block your sightline, there is probably reduced traffic,” says Troy White of Bradley Industries in O’Fallon, MO.
“The main shopping zone starts around 32 inches. In a lot of bigger stores, they don’t have merchandising below that level, but the smaller stores need to use that space, and then they’ll have shelves above,” says Chris Schotsman of Cayuga Displays in Cayuga, Ontario, Canada.
The upper shelves are used for stock rotation. Products from there are moved down to the main table as it gets shopped down, because people are more prone to shop at waist high level. New products are placed up above. Or, complementary products, such as raisins or salad toppers can go on the upper shelves.
Modular units can be added to extend a display — even in small stores. “The advantage of a modular, self-contained refrigerated display case is the flexibility a retailer has with moving it throughout the produce area for store promotions and seasonal events,” says Kim Camp of Dover Food Retail, Conyers, GA.
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THE FINE MISTS OF PRODUCE
Fresh vegetables that glisten with water offer superior quality, higher Vitamin C and chlorophyll content, and an elevated customer shopping experience.
“Customers are looking for freshness, color, variety,” says Emily Stavrou, vice president at Corrigan Corporation of America in Gurnee, IL, a manufacturer of misting equipment. “When you go out on a spring day and you see the water droplets on the grass after it rains, that reminds you of freshness. So, to see a little bit of dew on the produce is appealing.”
Hydrated vegetables also encourage impulse buying. “If people see produce that feels moist, many times they will buy it even if they didn’t plan to, even if it is not on the shopping list,” says Itamar Kleinberger, co-founder of Prodew Inc. in Marrietta, GA.
Prodew, with 30 years of experience in the design, manufacturing and sales of misting and humidity equipment, makes the VersaFresh misting system. Its FogMist system has a patented fogging nozzle, and humidifies from the back of the case, to maintain freshness.
“We recommend that everyone who buys our equipment, use a reverse osmosis (RO) filtration system. RO removes the fluoride, fluorine, calcium and bacteria from the water,” Kleinberger says.
MISTING VERSUS FOGGING
Produce on the sales floor is typically misted or fogged 24/7. With misting, droplets of 100 to 130 microns are sprayed for 3 to 10 seconds, every 7 to 10 minutes. With fogging, droplets of 6 to 12 microns are sprayed for 30 seconds, every 5 minutes. Aerosol size and timing vary by supplier.
“I would say leafy greens — spinach, kale, chard, romaine — have the most water content out of all produce. They definitely need hydration more than the others,” Stavrou says. “We do not mist bagged vegetables, but do mist loose carrots, celery, roots, beets, turnips, sprouts and zucchini squash.”
Fogging offers cooling, as some drops evaporate, uses less water than misting, and works well for moisture-sensitive produce. “Misting gets the product real wet, and only sprays what is exposed to the nozzle. If you have a multi-shelf unit, it will not get to the lower shelves. With fogging, you can moisturize everything in the case — it is just wet enough without overwetting,” says Kleinberger.
Kleinberger suggests other advantages to fogging: less spoilage; a drier store floor; a clean, dry case; and labor savings because no mud accumulates in the drain.
Stavrou says more supermarkets are moving toward fogging. Corrigan Corp’s patented Ultramist nozzles retrofit current systems, to make it easy to move from traditional misting to fogging.
Misting and fogging extend freshness, reduce waste and increase sales — but produce should still be rotated. Hydration systems often pay for themselves within six months.
“As long as you are fogging appropriately, with the correct on time and droplet size, it retains moisture, prevents shrink and allows the product to maintain its water and vitamin content,” Stavrou says.
NEWER MOISTURE TECHNOLOGY
Hydration technology continues to advance. “One store chain I spoke with would throw away $350 of mushrooms per week from the 4-foot section. Mushrooms like humidity, but don’t like wetness. So we developed an ultrasonic system — the uniqueness with ours is the droplets are created in the nozzle so there is no water storage, no reservoir,” Kleinberger says.
Corrigan is currently developing a new technology that does not use ultrasonic mist, and also offers a sanitization product that can clean produce and extend shelf life, Stavrou says.
European products are also making their way to the U.S. “They’ll have an ultrasonic mist set up on the floor, with the misting system above the produce tables. You don’t need as much refrigeration; it saves on energy, perhaps,” says Chris Schotsman, vice president of sales and marketing at Cayuga Displays in Cayuga, Ontario, Canada.
The Contronics Dry Mist system, developed in the Netherlands, is a proprietary dry fog of 2 to 3 micron droplets. Widely used in Europe, it uses an ultrasonic nebulizer to hydrate produce. As the mist evaporates, the produce is surrounded by cool humid air. The Contronics system can be used through the entire supply chain, from post-harvest through retail display.
“Because it is not wet, it doesn’t cause mildew buildup, or damage to cases,” says Mike Hartman, president of FreshTech Solutions LLC in Las Vegas, NV, which distributes the Contronics Dry Mist system. “It doesn’t have nozzles that harbor bacteria. Our fog gets into the airflow of the case, and it just constantly rehydrates the product without any of the maintenance issues that come along with an abundance of moisture.”
“It is a new technology, so people really need to understand what it does. At FreshTech, we offer a trial period with customers, allowing them to properly evaluate our product,” says Hartman. He expects the system to become quite popular in the U.S.