Plans begin now for a party of more than 100 million, with coast-to-coast favorites packed with produce, including guacamole and dips, party platters with fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and even beverages.
Originally printed in the December 2021 issue of Produce Business.
It’s official! The Big Game — the Super Bowl — is second only to Thanksgiving as the biggest U.S. food holiday of the year. That’s according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture report, Feature Advertising by U.S. Supermarkets Meat and Poultry The NFL-AFL World Championship Game 2021 Advertised Prices effective through February 07, 2021.
Aside from protein, the Big Game is a register-ringing produce occasion, too. For example, it ranks among the biggest avocado weeks of the year. In 2021, Hass avocado volume increased 5% to 57.6 million units, and dollar sales increased 1% to $51.2 million versus the year prior, according to data from the Mission Viejo, CA-headquartered Hass Avocado Board.
This year’s game is Sunday, Feb. 13, 2022, at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, CA, so get ready.
“The Big Game is very important to fresh produce sales. There are lots of different produce items that are considered Big Game favorites and do well for the Sunday gathering,” says John Savidan, senior director of produce and floral for Gelson’s Markets, a 27-store chain headquartered in Encino, CA. “Ripe avocados, Gelson’s homestyle guacamole, salsas, veggie and fruit trays, dips, dressings, lemons, and limes are some of the favorites.”
Likewise, says Paul Dziedzic, director of produce for Bristol Farms, a 14-store chain based in Carson, CA, “The Big Game is a big produce holiday because so many people host parties, be it in their homes or here in Southern California grilling in the backyard. Since this year’s game will be held at SoFi Stadium, the same county as our produce warehouse, we expect everything will be bigger, including produce sales.”
Beyond the specific venue, the Big Game is a national event, with close to 100 million Americans glued to their screens in 2021, according to New York-based market measurement firm, Nielsen, which tracks TV viewership data.
“The few days leading up to the Super Bowl tend to be some of our busier days of the entire year,” says Earl McGrath, produce director for Freshfields Farm, in Orlando, FL, which operates a second location in Jacksonville, FL.
Preferences run hot and cold across the nation for Big Game noshing. For example, the most searched-for football party foods ranged from chili in Massachusetts and chicken wings in Florida, and dips such as buffalo chicken in Wisconsin and 7-Layer in LA, to cheeseburger sliders in California, according to Google Trends data from February 2021.
That said, coast-to-coast favorites that are packed with produce include guacamole and dips, party platters with fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and even beverages.
AVOCADOS FRONT ROW CENTER
There are twice as many ways to sell more avocados for the Big Game: as the fruit itself and either retailer or supplier prepared guacamole.
“The Big Game is the No. 1 occasion where avocados and guacamole are served and prepared, and guacamole is the top way avocados are served for this occasion,” says Stephanie Bazan, vice president of trade and market development for Avocados From Mexico (AFM), based in Irving, TX. “To put it into perspective, if you take all the guacamole from all the avocados sold for Big Game parties, it could fill an entire stadium 12 feet high.”
Consumers use guacamole in a variety of Big Game snacks and dishes, Bazan says, adding, “total basket rings are two times higher 10 days before the Big Game, as consumers prepare their menus.”
Without question, Hass avocados and complementary items for guacamole, such as tomatoes, onions and limes, take center stage at Freshfields, according to McGrath.
“A critical part of our merchandising success is working with our primary avocado vendor, Calavo, so that we have the right amount of fruit conditioned to the right stages of ripeness for maximum customer satisfaction each of the days leading up to the Big Game. You have to thread the needle and provide the level of ripeness that most shoppers want each day. The customer four days ahead of the game is going to want a different avocado than the person that comes in the day before.”
Given the growth of bags and the increased preference for bags due to value and faster pick, adds the AFM’s Bazan, displaying bags is an important merchandising solution for retailers for the Big Game.
In 2021, AFM introduced its ‘Get in the Guac Zone’ with in-store point-of-sale available to retailers featuring Drew Brees. Shoppers had the chance to win a $100K Smart Home Makeover. The organization will run this promotion again from Jan. 4 to Feb. 13, 2022.
Pre-made guacamole is a hit with shoppers, says Justice Davis, associate brand manager for MegaMex Foods, the Orange, CA-based maker of the Wholly Guacamole brand. “On average, we see an increase in unit sales of about 34%, compared to other weeks.”
Price reductions, features, and cross-promotions are the most common forms of merchandising tactics for guacamole, adds Davis. The company will offer national couponing for its Wholly guacamole products in the run-up to the Big Game as well.
As for cross-merchandising, says Jan DeLyser, vice president marketing for the Irvine, CA-headquartered California Avocado Commission (CAC), whole avocados are ideally displayed “with tomatoes, onions, limes, lemons and chiles as a basic Big Game starter.”
McGrath at Freshfields says he saw an increased movement of items like cilantro, onions, limes, and tomatoes when the retailer placed them beside the avocados. Before the pandemic, his staff would offer samples of guacamole with recipe cards to make it convenient for shoppers to grab the quantities of each ingredient they needed.
For both whole avocados and pre-made guacamole, says MegaMex’s Davis, the most effective items to cross-merchandise would be salsas and tortilla chips. “These items are most likely to be found in the basket together. We also see consumers eating guacamole with fresh vegetables such as celery and carrots.”
Gelson’s Markets’ produce teams do an excellent job of building large, impactful displays, says Savidan. “Event and theme styled merchandising are right in our wheelhouse. It’s not uncommon to see goal posts, artificial turf, and other football props to make it more game-related. Quite honestly, we won’t have to put a whole lot of extra effort into calling out a local Super Bowl. Our customers will be able to feel the excitement when they shop our departments.”
“Every Super Bowl get-together has to have fresh guacamole, and Los Angeles and surrounding areas support this item even without the Big Game,” Savidan adds. “No matter what the score is, The Big Game gathering, more than ever, is centered around great food, drinks and good friends.”
BUILD A DIP DESTINATION
After guacamole, says Robert Schueller, director of public relations for Melissa’s/World Variety Produce, in Vernon, CA, “salsa is the other most popular dip or condiment for the Big Game.”
“Guacamole, salsa, and queso are year-round dip staples,” says Jay Alley, co-owner and vice president of sales for Fresh Innovations LLC, in Rhome, TX, maker of ¡Yo Quiero! brand. Today, “consumers are looking for healthier options, especially when it comes to their snacks. Our guacamole and salsa fit the plant-based and vegan trends and are full of fresh-tasting ingredients.”
“With the popularity of elote, or Mexican street corn dips,” Alley adds, “we will launch an elote dip that will be ready by Super Bowl. It is a delicious, well-balanced blend of whole kernel yellow corn, cotija cheese, and green chiles. We will have two heat levels: mild and medium.”
Mobile merchandisers placed in front of the store are the best display vehicles for fresh dips, says MegaMex’s Davis, because these units maximize awareness and drive the greatest lifts during gathering occasions like the Big Game.
“Refrigerated guacamole, salsa, and other dips can be placed in the coolers, while chips and items for dipping can be merchandised on top and around. Retailers such as Hy-Vee and Kroger are best-in-class for display merchandising” in this way, he adds.
CREATE A PARTY TRAY DISPLAY
Despite popular belief, not all football fans rely on meaty dishes, says Pablo Rivero, vice president of marketing, North America, Coral Gables, FL-headquartered Fresh Del Monte Produce, which acquired Mann Packing Co., in 2018. “Based on previous sales, the Big Game is a major fresh vegetable selling event for all retail and club format groups.”
When it comes to value-added fresh veggies, Rivero suggests investing in product displays, social media marketing and cross-merchandising. Colorful, eye-catching and full displays are key when it comes to merchandising, along with good lighting and creative signage, he says. “You want to draw the consumer over to the display, even if it is just to observe the creativity.”
“We anticipate produce grown in Southern California such as carrots, radishes, and corn will be heavily incorporated into game day dishes,” he adds.
Similarly, additional displays of baby carrots, carrot chips and/or carrot sticks and other value-added vegetables like celery sticks, sliced green peppers, and broccoli florets paired with creamy refrigerated dressings like ranch, blue cheese, and lemon basil would encourage consumers to create an easy vegetable platter for the Big Game, suggests Phil Kooy, chief customer officer for Bakersfield, CA-headquartered Bolthouse Farms.
“Also, displaying chicken wings, Buffalo hot sauce, our baby carrots, value-added celery sticks, and our Classic Blue Cheese and Classic Ranch dressings help consumers get all they need for an awesome Buffalo wing platter for their Big Game feast,” Kooy adds.
Besides veggies, fresh fruit is an ideal party platter ingredient.
“With fruit, I think it is important to have ready-to-eat items available for grab-and-go convenience. In addition, items like grapes, easy-peel mandarins, berries and whole melons provide customers with options to mix in some healthy fruit with other heavier dishes at Big Game parties,” says Freshfields McGrath.
Nuts are a favorite football snack food.
“We usually see about a 15% to 19% lift in sales for the Big Game time frame,” says Jeanne Cashman, director of brand marketing for Hampton Farms, in Raleigh, NC. “Our Cajun Hot Nuts have a medium spicy taste to complement other Big Game appetizers and dishes. Peanuts and football go together to create that in-stadium experience even at home viewing parties.”
Last year, the week leading up to the Big Game was the biggest retail sales week of the year for Wonderful brand pistachios, according to Diana Salsa, senior director of marketing for Los Angeles, CA-headquartered Wonderful Pistachios.
“Wonderful Pistachios No Shells BBQ and Sea Salt & Vinegar are a perfect alternative to chips, so you don’t have to sacrifice taste for health. Some great recipe ideas that consumers can enjoy while watching the Super Bowl are mini veggie sliders with Wonderful Pistachios No Shells Chili Roasted, Wonderful Pistachios party mix with No Shells Lightly Salted and Honey Roasted, and Wonderful Pistachios Street Tacos with Avocado Pistachio Cream Slaw.”
Beer displays with peanuts in different areas of the store can encourage impulse purchases, says Hampton Farms’ Cashman. “Retailers can add signage, football props, balloons, and other complementary party items like snacks. Endcaps, dump bins, case stacks, or displays in the produce department are always winners for the Big Game.”
Wonderful Pistachios has invested heavily in in-store point-of-sale displays for football season, including eye-catching football displays, bins and accessories, adds Salsa. “Retailers can participate by ordering bins to help build big displays, which we know drive up to two times the velocity. We also encourage our retailers to stock up on our bigger size bags during this time of year.”
DON’T FORGET DRINKS
Produce items that might be components of drinks also see increased movement at Freshfields, according to McGrath.
“Many of our beverages make a great base for cocktails or mocktails, and retailers could cross-merchandise them with wine or spirits,” recommends Bolthouse Farms’ Kooy. “For example, Our C-Boost smoothie is the perfect complement to tequila, and our Superfood Immunity Boost mixed with red wine and fruit slices makes a healthier, immunity-boosting sangria. For brunch before the big game, try a Bunny Mary — a delicious Bolthouse Farms 100% Carrot Juice-based version of a Bloody Mary. Or for more of a kick, suggest shoppers make it with our Carrot Ginger Turmeric Juice.”