Beyond snacking, retailers can showcase raisins as a versatile, nutrition-filled answer for consumers seeking health solutions.
Originally printed in the May 2023 issue of Produce Business.
As fruit superheroes go, raisins unquestionably wear invisible capes and fly under the radar. Too often, raisins are dismissed as something typically consumed during childhood — or simply used in baking.
This provides the ideal opportunity for retailers to go bold and remind consumers that raisins suitably come to the rescue. The everyday message is raisins can easily be merchandised as a convenient snacking item for energy or as an ingredient used to step up flavor and nutritional values of salads and meals cooked at home.
“Our belief is merchandising raisins in multiple locations throughout the a works best for shoppers,” says Mitch Wetzel, vice president of sales for Sunview Marketing International, a third generation family farm headquartered in Delano, CA.
“Raisins have been historically overlooked in the produce department, but their versatility makes them ideal to merchandise with the fresh fruits and vegetables,” adds Wetzel.
And that versatility means raisins can be merchandised in the center store and the produce department, and Sunview, for example, also has pouch bags suited to merchandise at check-out stands. Wetzel sees this multi-placement approach appreciated by consumers, especially with the increasing popularity of adding raisins to a broad array of snacks and salads.
PROMOTE HEALTH BENEFITS
Raisins are immunity enhancers, and are rightly promoted in the produce department.
“One thing I wish consumers would understand about raisins is that they’re healthy for you,” exclaims Stephanie Blackwell, founder of Aurora Products, a family-owned company and packager of all natural foods in Orange, CT. “Competition for raisins includes dried cranberries, blueberries, etc. These alternative berries contain added sugars, whereas the raisin is just dried without adding any sugar.”
Savvy retailers merchandising fresh produce items as health products will especially want to showcase raisins for the widespread range of health benefits they provide consumers. Not particularly pretty if you compare them to colorful dragon fruit, but the true beauty of raisins is how they can help improve health even without being cooked, blended, peeled or mashed — convenience to the max.
“With the growth of dried fruit being merchandised and sold in the produce department, a premium jumbo raisin like Sunview’s works perfectly and adds incremental sales to the entire department,” Wetzel says. “Sunview’s raisins are premium for a reason and not like regular raisins. They are more than two times larger than a traditional raisin.”
TELL THE RAISIN STORY
Signage sells, and that’s important to remember as consumers are looking for produce items that are convenient and provide health benefits.
One way some retailers tell the story is through private label products. Featuring the store’s brand on the package is a message to shoppers that the product is valued and trusted. “Most big supermarkets are interested in private labeling,” says Blackwell. “It’s easier and less expensive for us to do our own brand, but we work with the retailer.” She indicates her company also helps retailers with promos and TPRs — temporary price reductions.
Knowing the store’s demographics can make a difference when strategizing cross-merchandising efforts. Fruits and vegetables purchased for home preparation are typically selected with food customs and traditions in mind.
In Indian cuisine, for example, in which many dishes boldly feature a variety of vegetables, raisins are counted on as significant nutrition enhancers disguised as sweets.
Knowing who is shopping and which global flavors they are pursuing can provide helpful clues with produce procurement selections and merchandising decisions.
RAISINS ARE SEASONLESS
While not necessarily top-of-mind for a lot of retailers, the all-season attribute of raisins, combined with the no-shrink factor, causes little pushback for promoting the nearly unsung dried fruit throughout the year. Use raisins during a lull or product shortage to promote a variety of produce combinations.
Beyond thinking of robust raisin sales during back-to-school promos, Halloween or the fall baking season, retailers are wise to prepare for consumption peaks throughout the year.
Summertime is ideal for promoting raisins alongside complementing fruits and vegetables. Group the fresh ingredients for shopping convenience and provide recipes for numerous raisin-forward salads.
Shoppers are on a quest for bargains and looking for ways to stretch their grocery budget in all departments. Consider a full-blown, in-produce department raisin promotion to increase interest in many fruits and vegetables, while delivering the health benefits of raisins. And then make it happen again when the timing best serves the produce department.
PROMOTE ENERGY FACTOR
January, the month when people vow to exercise more and improve their eating habits, might seem a stretch for promoting raisins, but retailers could simply merchandise raisins in the produce department grab-and-go section. Consuming raisins about an hour before a big workout or training session is said to be wise strategy to optimize performance. Simple signage can share this message.
Is the store located near a fitness center, swimming center, youth hockey rink or golf course? Remind shoppers how convenient raisins are to eat for energy and muscle recovery after athletic performances. Remember to offer a variety of package sizes — from kid-size single servings to resealable family packs.
Merchandise raisin add-ons, such as walnuts, pistachios, pecans, peanuts and almonds. Those nut oils combined with the natural raisin sugars will help satisfy that “starving” feeling experienced by athletes.
ORGANIC EASY TO OFFER
Depending on corporate policy or the store’s philosophy, organic raisins can certainly be merchandised alongside conventional raisins. Packaging labels make it clear for consumers to see the certification status of what they are purchasing.
“We sell both organic as well as all-natural dried fruits, including raisins. For Aurora, organic raisins outsell the all-natural two to one. It’s amazing how much the organic market is increasing each year,” says Blackwell, whose company offers the brand Aurora Natural.
Sunview Marketing, which sells raisins to retailers from its website and through Amazon, says the company saw a significant demand for organics during the pandemic. “We experienced a huge uptick for our organic raisins during that time,” Wetzel says.
RAISIN INVENTORY STEADY
North Americans are said to mostly consume raisins grown in the United States. As consumption increases, some raisin wholesalers, packagers and distributors seek supplies grown outside of the U.S. to enhance inventory and prevent supply shortages. In business for 25 years, Blackwell of Aurora has seen supply changes through the years. “Raisins currently sold in North American supermarkets are not grown exclusively in the U.S. Some are grown in America, but a lot are grown in South America such as in Chile and Argentina,” says Blackwell.
PROMOTE CUSTOMER FEEDBACK
Never underestimate the power of raisin stories from consumers when promoting the wrinkly dried fruit to your customers.
“There isn’t so much a specific raisin-related topic that surprises us when we comb through customer feedback, but we are genuinely surprised about the variety of comments and the level of passion in which the raisin stories are told,” reveals Wetzel of Sunview Marketing. “People go on and on about raisins and give great details about how they enjoy them in various ways. Yes, on their oatmeal, but every consumable way is mentioned in the same message.”
Wetzel says Sunview is diligent about reading those e-mail feedback stories and finds value in comments and suggestions shared by customers. For example, he relates one topic customers typically comment on is the surprise of the jumbo size and juiciness of Sunview raisins. He indicates this jumbo raisin unawareness by some consumers has contributed to the revamping of the company’s packaging. While still in the works, a debut for the new package is anticipated by the end of 2023. Spoiler alert — shoppers will be able to have a pre-purchase peek to view the significant size of the Sunview raisins.
When providing content for the store’s website, retailers can easily go beyond including a few raisin recipes. Simply engage customers online and with in-store signage by prompting them to submit feedback the store might feature related to: the Top 10 Ways to Enjoy Raisins or My Five Reasons for Eating Raisins. When the feedback arrives, listen, learn and promote to realize the increased produce department sales.