Southeastern U.S. produce yields countless year-round merchandising opportunities.
Originally printed in the May 2022 issue of Produce Business.
The Southeastern United States is a garden for North American consumers. A vast array of commodities present promotion opportunities for retailers throughout the U.S. and Canada. Regional offerings swing from Florida citrus and tropical fruits to North Carolina apples and Arkansas tomatoes. Also shipped are countless salad vegetables, root crops, blueberries and peaches. Each year, early production launches the seasonal shipping cycle for U.S. growers, and this spring, grocers have a terrific opportunity to merchandise strong Southeastern crops.
Produce Business checked in with regional leaders to sample ideas on merchandising Southeastern fruits and vegetables.
B&T Food Fresh Market
In this region’s core is a five-store family business, B&T Food Fresh Market, based in the east-central Georgia town of Millen.
B&T does a great job in merchandising southeastern produce. From deep in the heart of watermelon country, B&T Food Fresh Market placed third in the national retail merchandising contest of the National Watermelon Promotion Board last fall. According to the board, the contest garnered over 150 entries from various retail chains, independent retailers and commissaries throughout the U.S. and Canada.
B&T offers watermelons 12 months a year, starting with Florida melons. “Then we get them from Cordell, GA, where you buy better flavor and size. They are truly great,” says B&T’s William Triplett, a longtime retail merchandising pro. “Then, we go to South Carolina near Savannah, Georgia; North Carolina, and on up to New Jersey.”
“In addition to selling whole watermelons, we cut them into chunks, which are sold with cantaloupe, and in a fruit mix with strawberries and blueberries. We do whole, half, quarters, sliced and chunk watermelon.”
Triplett, who is known within the chain as “Mr. William,” credits B&T’s produce manager Bobby Inman as being “very creative.” Inman recently displayed a real tractor within a produce department, specializes in large displays and “has different ways of promoting. Customers love it.”
Notable B&T displays include Georgia-grown Vidalia onions. These promotions “are always big and on ad,” Triplett says, adding Vidalia onions are also advertised in store windows. The displays feature three-, five-, and 10-pound bags, and are also sold loose.
Other featured Georgia products are sweet corn and local cabbage, Triplett said.
B&T merchandises Muscadine and Scuppernong grapes, sourced from Bainbridge, GA, and peaches out of Bonaire, GA.
The Georgia chain also sells green peanuts, both loose and by the bushel. “We don’t boil them. We sell them green, and people boil them at home, and add salt. It’s a big item in all our stores.”
If green peanuts were not unusual enough, B&T also sells shelled field corn in 50-pound bags to Georgia deer hunters. Georgia growers love to sell their field corn as premium product, and beyond attracting deer to hunting areas, the corn is cleaned, Triplett notes, “so you can grind it for corn meal” for human consumption.
Triplett said B&T stores foremost feature produce, then meat, frozen and dairy, always focusing on stores’ perimeters. That is the key to success, he says. “If you do that well, the rest will go well.”
Triplett said B&T focuses on beautiful displays, rich with color.
B&T produce departments are the first section of the store inside the entry. “I tell my managers that the first thing they should do every morning is to walk their departments and take anything off the rack that they wouldn’t eat.”
Merchandising North Carolina Sweet Potatoes
The COVID-19 pandemic set back merchandising efforts for North Carolina sweet potatoes and other fresh commodities, notes CoCo Daughtry. But the communications specialist for the North Carolina SweetPotato Commission notes that it’s a good time to get onboard again with retail displays.
Her advice for boosting sweet potato displays is a front-and-center location for clean, well-lit displays.She noted that lighting is important for sweet potatoes because “they’re the same color as the ground,” making illumination important for highlighting the product. A display “could be as simple as placing 40-pound cartons stacked by the bin to catch the eye of the consumer.”
Retailers often promote sweet potatoes when a fresh crop comes into season. That is effective for North Carolina sweet potatoes, which first are fresh into the market each year about August or September. But, Daughtry emphasizes that sweet potatoes maintain condition and appearance throughout the year, so high quality product is available far beyond the beginning of harvest.
Daughtry notes the North Carolina SweetPotato Commission’s website offers 17 pages of sweet potatoes recipes, including recipes for consumers, foodservice, athletes and dietitian-approved recipes.
Troy Bland, CEO of Bland Farms, Glennville, GA, said merchandising opportunities are key to his firm’s marketing operations.
Via an email interview, he says Bland Farms “strives to keep things exciting for our retailers to help drive sales. We think that signage for sweet onions at the retail level is very important, so we offer a variety of POS material that can be used leading up to and during Vidalia season. We also offer our retail partners advanced pricing when needed, to support advertising either in print or digital. Using our display bins, which hold 40 pounds of sweet onions, in the produce department really helps drive sales.”
Bland Farms’ “high graphic packaging with recipes for consumers, cross-merchandising opportunities with our Vidalia Brands items like Sweet Onion Petal Snacks, Blossom Sauce and Batter Mix and implementing the POS material” also helps drive sales, he says. “We love collaborating with our retailers to customize programs for their customers and have the marketing team and expertise to do so.”
This spring, Bland Farms announced a 2022 promotion with Will Smith, a star pitcher for the World Series Champions Atlanta Braves. Bland Farms is offering retail display contests and offering POS material for the Smith promotion, which also uses social media for fans to win autographed Will Smith baseballs and tickets to baseball games.
Bland notes Smith is a Georgia native, “so he knows and loves our Bland Farms Vidalia (brand) sweet onions. The Blands also love baseball. The start of baseball season ties in perfectly with the start of Vidalia season.”
Southeast Produce Council
Offering advice on promoting fresh produce from the southeastern U.S., Raina Nelson, chairman of the board of the Southeast Produce Council Inc., says the council’s “Southern Exposure and Southern Innovations trade shows are the perfect platforms to connect growers and buyers.”
The nonprofit trade association has “a vision to be the premier resource for increasing fruit and vegetable consumption,” Nelson adds, “and we accomplish that mission throughout the year by creating value for our stakeholders through strong connections to conduct business according to their needs and objectives.”