Originally printed in the November 2020 issue of Produce Business.
Hot deals for the holidays are one way to warm up wintertime produce sales.
Grower/shippers, specialty produce distributors, and domestic and international commodity marketing boards, corporations and associations all offer holiday-themed merchandising ideas retailers can use to heat up fresh produce sales during the coldest months of the year. To best capitalize on these opportunities, consider the overall themes important to consumers in this season.
“In the winter, it is best to recognize shoppers are looking for an escape, as well as items that will brighten up their kitchen tables during heavy-weather months,” recommends Alex Berkley, director of sales at Frieda’s Specialty Produce, in Los Alamitos, CA. “Also, shoppers are interested in incorporating functional foods into their daily eating habits to improve their health and immunity as they have had more time at home to focus on their health and well-being.”
Secondly, plan for COVID-safe shopping especially during high traffic, holiday shopping peaks.
“The fourth quarter, especially the time from Thanksgiving to Christmas and New Year’s are huge for produce sales,” says Max Maddaus, produce director at Kowalski’s Markets, an 11-store chain based in Saint Paul, MN. “We’ve looked at what we can do at the store-level to accommodate the influx of shoppers. For example, we are merchandising products differently to avoid bottleneck areas. This may sacrifice some sales area, but it helps with social distancing. We’ve also switched to more PLU-labeled items, for example, more bagged products, to speed out time spent at the checkout. Beyond the store-level, we have a big social media push. Shoppers are spending more time planning and less time in-store, so we’ve sought out ways to assist by not only letting them know what’s available but preparation tips and tricks especially for key holidays.”
Third, plan to implement one or more of the holiday merchandising ideas below:
This eight-night holiday features favorites such as latkes (potato pancakes), applesauce, beef brisket and vegetables.
“Carrots and potatoes are hearty ingredients for savory holiday stews that many families enjoy around Hannukah,” says Kellen Stailey, vice president of marketing for Grimmway Farms, in Bakersfield, CA. “While shredded potatoes are the base for traditional latkes eaten during Hanukkah, red beets make a vibrant and flavorful alternative with delicious, caramelized flavor.”
Convenience is king, especially during the holiday season, says Kowalski’s Markets’ Maddaus. “One of our big sellers and signature produce items is ready-to-roast kits. We have 5 to 6 varieties. For example, one is a Squash Blend, and another is Medley Potatoes. Each has flavorings like garlic, onion, fresh herbs and butter all in the container. All customers have to do is microwave, sauté or roast.”
Carrots, potatoes and sweet potatoes are staple ingredients for Christmas dinners.
“Build colorful carrot displays featuring rainbow-colored strips of purple, red, yellow and orange bunch carrots to create a symmetrical, eye-catching effect that inspires colorful cuisine for holiday entertaining. Our beautiful red bunch carrots, with a solid red color through the root and outstanding sweet flavor, come into season in December with supplies typically available through March,” suggests Grimmway Farms’ Stailey.
The November-December holiday season saw Russet potatoes command 67% of all volume sales last year, which makes them a great option when it comes to advertising, according to Ross Johnson, director of international marketing for the Idaho Potato Commission, in Eagle, ID. “We recommend placing varietals near large Russet displays, as we’ve learned that varietals do not cannibalize department sales and are incremental to the category. This is a huge learning as shoppers don’t look for the best price on a 24-ounce bag of variety potatoes that they will consume in one meal like they do on the 5- or 10-pound bag of potatoes that will last an extended time. Building big displays to get consumers thinking about different recipes they can create with potatoes is paramount to an effective merchandising strategy.”
Sweet potatoes are a natural for the holidays, yet not every dish needs to have marshmallows, says Michelle Grainger, executive director of the North Carolina SweetPotato Commission Inc., in Benson, NC. “There are so many interesting recipes using sweet potatoes. We have recipes for salads, sides, sweets and more on our website, as well as a monthly blog and active social media account that includes ideas for the holidays. Retailers can encourage customers to experiment.”
Merchandise Stokes Purple sweet potato with other sweet potato varieties, recommends Frieda’s Berkley. “Include our display shipper for a secondary display to take advantage of holiday foot traffic.”
On the fruit front, cranberries and citrus are holiday must-haves.
Fresh cranberries are available in limited volumes from imports for Christmas holiday recipes.
“We want to show consumers the many ways they can incorporate this superfruit in their favorite holiday dishes and into their everyday diets,” says CarrieAnn Arias, Vice President of Marketing at Naturipe Farms LLC, headquartered in Estero, FL. “That’s why this holiday we brought together our expert chef and registered dietitian to develop our latest e-cookbook, ‘Cranberries Reimagined’. The cookbook, which is available to download for free on our website, features 17 recipes including sweet and savory dishes, sauces, and festive cocktails. We recommend retailers feature the e-cookbook in their social media channels and on their websites.”
The company also offers fresh cranberries in a free-standing Grab ‘n’ Go bag perfect for building holiday-themed displays in-store.
The peak domestic citrus season kicks off in December.
“The Navel orange is a holiday classic,” says Christina Ward, director of global brand marketing for Valencia, CA-based Sunkist Growers. “During the holidays we offer 10-pound holiday-themed Navel orange cartons with complimentary secondary display bins and point-of-sale (POS) materials. We also offer nearly 40 different citrus varieties throughout the season, including a broad portfolio of oranges, lemons, mandarins, grapefruit, tangerines and tangelos, and limes. These varieties can bring bright colors and unique flavors to winter holiday recipes and traditions.”
Wonderful Citrus has launched a targeted multi-million-dollar marketing campaign for its easy peeler mandarins, Halos, including a social media campaign, in-store POS displays, and an exciting new collection of colorful stickers. The Delano, CA-headquartered company will also continue its ‘Grove of Goodness’ POS display program for a fourth year. This features the eye-catching Halos Grove Tree and Fruit Stand displays, which, according to company data, drive sales velocities 18% faster than product featured without a display.
“Consumer behaviors are shifting toward more bagged fruit versus bulk, so it is important to promote bagged citrus, such as Halos mandarins, and other varieties with displays at front of produce, at checkout, and online to capture the impulse purchase from consumers who have Vitamin C on their minds this time of year,” says Zak Laffite, Wonderful Citrus’ president.
NEW YEAR’S EVE & DAY
December 31/January 1
Black-eyed peas and dark leafy greens are two ingredients long thought to bring good luck and prosperity in the New Year.
“Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Year’s Day are when we see an increased demand for larger pack sizes of Southern greens like collards, mustard and turnips,” says Megan Ichimoto, marketing and product development manager for San Miguel Produce, Inc., in Oxnard, CA. “Promoting larger pack sizes and multiple purchases of smaller packs, 2 for $5 for example, will help impact sales. Plus, provide a recipe and merchandise all ingredients for the recipe with the cooking greens in one spot to help increase sales.”
January brings with it New Year’s resolutions for healthful eating, another good theme to promote greens, Ichimoto adds. “Consumers are eating for their health and look to incorporate more nutrient-dense greens like Green and Tuscan Kale into their diet.”
San Miguel Produce’s newest innovation is a line of fresh Kale Chip Kits that pairs trending seasoning flavors with specialty cut de-stemmed kale for chips. This kit is a fun and veggie-centric snack alternative for adults and children to enjoy.
The plant-based trend is forecast to flourish in 2021, says Robert Schueller, director of public relations for Melissa’s/World Variety Produce, in Vernon, CA. “Interest in plant-based isn’t just by vegetarians or vegans, but by a larger demographic that is simply interested in eating less meat and more plant foods for good health. Utilize retail chefs and Supermarket Registered Dietitians to promote healthier eating and entice plant-based eating experiences through culinary-inspired sets or fresh cut and convenience items.”
THE BIG GAME: SUPER BOWL
The Super Bowl is the second-largest food consumption holiday behind Thanksgiving, and snacks make up a big part of this hand-to-mouth eating occasion, according to data from SNAC International, an Arlington, VA-headquartered snack industry trade association.
“Sweet potato availability is strong year-round now, not just the fall. Sweet potato chips and air-fried sweet potato wedges with a variety of seasonings and accompanying dips are usages to promote via cross-merchandising for game watching get-togethers at home,” says the North Carolina SweetPotato Commission’s Grainger.
Celery and radishes are staples on game day veggie platters. Baby carrots and carrot sticks are tried-and-true favorites for Super Bowl party spreads as well, according to Grimmway Farms’ Stailey. “Our rainbow carrot chips are a colorful update to classic crudité selections. Merchandise on a display that cross-promotes value-added carrot cuts with a variety of dips perfect for snack platters on game day.”
The rainbow carrot chips, which are sold in 12-ounce re-sealable bags, are among the newest items from Cal-Organic Farms, a division of Grimmway Farms.
CHINESE NEW YEAR
This celebration of the beginning of the New Year on the traditional Chinese calendar is a produce-centric one when it comes to feasting and food as gifts. In fact, Sunkist Growers will be offering its citrus in limited-edition packaging and secondary display bins for the Year of the Ox.
“The easy-to-peel and extra sweet Gold Nuggets make their appearance in mid-February,” says Sunkist’s Ward.
As for specialty produce, Frieda’s now has available its Calamondin and Limequat in retail pouches.
On the veggie front, says San Miguel Produce’s Ichimoto, “families gather and eat a variety of traditional dishes that include bok choy to wish them well in the new year. This is a good time to promote our value-added greens under the Jade Asian Greens brand, which includes baby bok choy.”
Last year, more than 2,500 retailers utilized Chinese New Year POS kits offered by Melissa’s/World Variety Produce. This year’s themed kits include shelf strips, hanging banners, small shelf signs, and two-sided posters for iron man stands. Each piece of POS includes a QR code that takes shoppers to a 15-page eBook with holiday recipes. Most contain plenty of produce. For example, the Veggie Egg Roll recipe calls for fresh ginger and garlic, shelled edamame, and Napa cabbage, carrots, onions and shiitake mushrooms.
Cupid’s celebration of love customarily sees more people dining out than in. That may change in 2021 with the trend towards more dining at home, says Melissa’s/World Variety Produce’s Schueller. He suggests retailers focus on displays of tropical fruit such as passion fruit and red-hued bananas, strawberry papaya and pomegranate arils; hot peppers such as red fresnos and red shishitos; and crepes and dessert sauce fixings for lovely fruity desserts.
“There is an opportunity to promote our new Blood orange 10-pound consumer cartons as a blushing specialty for Valentine’s Day,” says Sunkist’s Ware.
SUMMER IN WINTER THEME
Consumer’s eating habits are changing and as a result, they want more variety in fresh fruits year-round, says Jason Kazmirski, retail specialist for Charlie’s Produce, in Seattle, WA, which supplies several independent retailers in the Pacific Northwest as well as larger chains such as Fred Meyer and Sprouts. “Our retailers will build special displays and put fruits we bring in from Chile, traditional summer favorites like blueberries and soft fruit, on ads in the middle of winter.”
Similarly, blueberries are a big wintertime hit with customers at Bristol Farms, a 19-store upscale chain headquartered in Carson, CA, says Paul Dziedzic, director of produce. “We’ll promote Chilean blueberries and cross-merchandise them with dairy and in our bakery department. It used to be 4.4- and 6-ounce were the main package size, but we now carry 1-pint, 18-ounce and even 24-ounce if they have. Blueberries are that popular, especially when people look to eat more healthfully in the new year.”
Looking at the winter months of December, January and February, the month with most plentiful volumes of Chilean fruit is February, according to Karen Brux, the San Pedro, CA-based North American managing director for the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association (CFFA). “This is a key promotion month for blueberries, peaches and nectarines, with the cherry season soon ending. We run some grape promotions in February, but March and April are bigger months.”
To capitalize on more consumers cooking at home and looking for healthy new recipe ideas, the CFFA offers a variety of recipes retailers can use in displays, in cross-merchandising promotions and on social sites. These include Blueberry Power Balls, Blueberry Chia Parfaits and Peach Pie Smoothie Bowls.