Effective merchandising of snack-sized fruit adds jumbo-sized profits to retail produce departments.
Originally printed in the June 2021 issue of Produce Business.
A popular summer item, grapes help retailers continue strong fruit sales through the summer until the end of the year. Following stone fruit and berries, which begin sales in May and June, California grapes, which harvest beginning in July, provide a natural window of fruit between the peak of summer fruits and fall fruits.
“California grapes are a big mover and an impulse buy,” says Rob Spinelli, sales manager of Anthony Vineyards Inc., Bakersfield, CA. “They are big drivers.”
“When the season hits for California grapes, they are fresher, they look brighter and they look alive compared to Chilean, Peruvian and Mexican grapes, which have longer transit times,” he says, adding California growers are known throughout the world for the quality of their table grapes.
Grapes are important for Super A Foods, Inc., a Los Angeles area retailer, and are “a huge part of our produce department,” says James Amen, president of the Commerce, CA, chain of eight stores. Why? Simply, “Grapes sell well.”
Following early summer merchandising of stone fruit and berries, the arrival of grapes signals a shift to shoppers. “When someone walks into the produce department and sees something new and different, they perceive the seasons have changed a little,” notes Ray England, vice president of DJ Forry Co. Inc, Reedley, CA. “Grapes illustrate and dictate the season and set the tone for the rest of the shopping experience in the produce department.”
TOP SHOPPING ITEM
Proper merchandising of grapes is important because grapes are a major item shoppers place in their shopping carts. Karen Hearn, vice president of domestic marketing of the California Table Grape Commission (CTGC), Fresno, CA, notes research shows 46% of respondents purchase fresh grapes on a regular basis.
“With close to half of primary shoppers considering grapes to be a staple in their households and purchasing them on a regular basis, the grape category, now more than ever, remains an important category for retailers,” says Hearn.
With the increased grape varieties available during the California grape season, she sees retailers expanding grape display space and increasing variety selections. And increased e-commerce promotional activity is also reaching online shoppers with messages about California grapes, Hearn adds.
According to Nielsen, grapes are the second leading fruit in dollar sales, behind apples, but ahead of bananas, strawberries, avocados, blueberries, watermelon, mandarins, oranges and raspberries. In unit sales, grapes are fifth, following bananas, avocados, apples and limes, but ahead of strawberries, blueberries, watermelons, oranges, mandarins and lemons.
Grapes are produce department revenue drivers. While bananas sell well, cutting their price in half doesn’t result in much pickup volume among other produce items, observes England. Two primary stock-keeping units (SKUs), red and green grapes, generate 7% of fruit sales, he notes, versus the numerous SKUs for other commodities, including bagged salads.
“When grapes come from natural environments like California, and they’re fresh, they seem to sell better,” observes John Pandol, director of special projects for Pandol Bros., Inc., Delano, CA. “It’s just a different grape. We have grapes all year, but the best sales are in the late summer and early fall, when grapes in their natural environment are at their best fresh. That drives most of it. That’s why California is important for retail grape sales.”
Shoppers notice the change to California grapes. “They are hitting the shelves seven to 10 days within being harvested,” says Anthony Vineyards’ Spinelli. “The fruit looks outstanding, the stems are green, it looks fresh, not tired and old. That alone is appealing to the consumer and will drive sales.”
When grapes are put on promotions, many boxes move. “You can close to double your movement,” says England. “Grapes are extraordinarily elastic and highly sought after, which means you can generate a lot of revenue. When you drop your retail (price), you can increase your numbers of cases sold. You won’t see a revenue hit.”
Proper display placement is important. “When they are on ad, they should be front and center,” says Anthony Vineyards’ Spinelli. “Use good-sized displays. When off-ad, they need to be visible. Don’t tuck them into the back side of a cold box. They need to be up front during the summer and fall. If not on sale, they will still be an impulse buy if they look good.”
DJ Forry’s England agrees. “Because they’re seasonal, if they represent a value and the quality is there, grapes should be one of the first things shoppers see when walking into the department.”
“If you have a sales driver, it ought to be placed where people can easily find them,” he adds. “Because grapes are such an elastic item in terms of movement, a larger display should entice higher sales.”
BIGGER ISN’T ALWAYS BETTER
Don’t go too large on the display, warns Pandol. “Big displays are good, but never have a display bigger than you can maintain.” The stores that “stack ‘em high and let ‘em fly” — only tending to the displays in the mornings — will disappoint shoppers who visit later in the day to discover less impressive displays of fruit that have been pawed throughout the day, he says.
“When a customer comes into a store, it’s all he or she knows,” says Pandol. “They see it when they see it. If it has been picked over, they will select another item.”
Inattention to displays unnecessarily increases shrink. “Do the plan you can execute,” he says.
Display location remains important. Pandol prefers grapes be displayed on a chilled table, and he also likes a secondary grape display in the front of the produce department.
“Wherever your grapes are, they should always be there,” says Pandol. “When you’re really focused, a secondary display up front is good, but always have grapes at the same place for familiarity.
A smaller assortment works, too. “Don’t try to do everything,” advises Pandol. “Pick a merchandising approach. Keep five to eight items in your grape category.”
He points to the success of budget retailers and their strategy of offering small selections. “There’s no shame in limited assortment well played,” says Pandol.
CTGC’s Hearn says signage is also key for educating shoppers. Noting California origin, characteristics of the varieties offered, health benefits and selection tips provide information shoppers seek.
Educating shoppers on how to choose grapes and store them refrigerated at home after purchase will ensure the best possible eating experience and repeat purchases, says Chelsea McClarty Ketelsen, vice president of HMC Farms, Kingsburg, CA. Promoting the variety of grape colors also helps.
“It is best to showcase the bright colors of the fruit if possible,” she says. “When grapes are packed in bags, the most eye-catching displays are those where the fruit is very visible, placed side by side, but not stacked on top of each other. If the grapes are in clams, they can be stacked, but no more than three high.”
“It’s important for the colors to be seen,” agrees Super A Foods’ Amen. “The reds, the blacks and the greens. Make sure you have the color combo together so it looks good. That really helps.”
Super A Foods erects end displays with 10 to 15 boxes in the spring, but come summer, the stores expand to large displays featuring 30 to 40 cartons. “It’s very important to have large displays,” says Amen.
ONLINE IN SIGHT
Retailers should also play up grapes in online merchandising. With 69% of primary shoppers ordering groceries online once a week or more, utilizing e-commerce merchandising programs is another avenue to reach shoppers, says Hearn.
“For e-commerce merchandising, promoting grapes on retail apps or with online grocery delivery services are additional ways to reach shoppers,” she says. “Digital ads, digital coupons and targeted search features can all be used to reach the online shopper.”
Additionally, when merchandising grapes online, make sure grape photos look appealing to shoppers and display clear messages of origin, advises Hearn.
Suppliers and retailers must consider omnichannel marketing. “Our online merchandisers, a lot of times, are graphic artists from the store’s website department,” says Pandol. “The online merchandising for fresh items is a very new world. The biggest learning from the last year is just make sure you’re on the list. It’s all about being in the first search results.”
Stores must train employees to ensure the correct items are picked for the online shoppers, notes Anthony Vineyards’ Spinelli. Through their loyalty programs’ email flyers and e-blasts, stores can target shoppers who purchased grapes in the past, and remind them grapes are on sale.
“The ads,” says Spinelli, “will drive everything.”