Summer Produce Merchandising Guide

The National Watermelon Promotion Board holds its annual Watermelon Retail Merchandising Contest in July and August. Last summer, Heritage Co-op, in Brandon, Manitoba, Canada, won the grand prize from 115 entries. Russell’s display, called “Watermelon Bowlarama,” was made of a 16-foot bowling alley lane, with bowling pins and a scorecard screen of four different melons competing. The display had a bowling ball return machine to create the image of the bowling alley.

Feature fresh fruits and vegetables Memorial Day through Labor Day.


 Summertime holidays from Memorial Day through Labor Day are a ripe time to feature fresh fruits and vegetables.

In this age of 365 availability of most produce categories, taking advantage of seasonal eating offers shoppers health benefits. That is, just-picked displays, creative merchandising and themed promotions encourage consumers to pick up more than the items they eat day in and day out.

“Summer offers a sequence of holidays and key retail opportunities that can be strategically leveraged to enhance produce turnover, optimize retail merchandising opportunities, and ensure a steady flow of traffic through the produce department,” says Alex Jackson, vice president of sales and procurement for Frieda’s Branded Produce, in Los Alamitos, CA.

Jackson also recommends leveraging digital media and store apps before major holidays to tease upcoming produce features, offer exclusive promotions or sneak peeks at recipes using seasonal produce.

“In-store, consider live demos or taste-testing events aligned with holiday themes to boost interest and interaction,” Jackson adds.


This “kick-off to summer” is the first of the three major holidays that feature a patriotic red, white and blue theme.

Retailers can leverage the red and blue of strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries in holiday promotions for Memorial Day, as well as Fourth of July and Labor Day, says Jim Roberts, president of sales for Naturipe Berry Growers, Inc., in Salinas, CA.

“The first of several peaks in our California strawberry growing regions hit in early May and extend into early June, ideal for Memorial Day promotions.”

Roberts adds the company will see a second peak in the supply of strawberries in mid-June and July from its northern California growing regions, and a third peak in September.

Naturipe recently introduced its Mighty Reds, or jumbo strawberries, and its Sweet Selections Blueberries and Blackberries, which are proprietary high-flavor varieties. These berries will be new for most retailers and consumers this summer.

In addition, the company anticipates a strong supply of blackberry availability from Georgia in late spring, with peak supplies projected for early June.

While transitional periods between growing regions can make blueberry promotions challenging, Memorial Day is typically the strongest supply period for North Bay Produce, with fruit sourced from Georgia and North Carolina, says Brian Klumpp, director of sales and marketing for the Traverse City, MI, company.

“This year, we are excited to feature packaging that emphasizes the states where our berries are grown. We know consumers seek out local produce and this is our way of helping the farmers and shoppers find each other.” 

Showcase strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries with serving ideas by displaying all the products needed to create an easy recipe together, suggests Kyla Oberman, director of marketing for California Giant Berry Farms, in Watsonville, CA.

“For example, cross-merchandising berries, biscuits and whipped cream to make Strawberry Shortcake Sliders provides shoppers with one-stop inspiration and ingredients, creating an opportunity for impulse purchases.”

Cherries are another red-colored fruit.

“Historically, Memorial Day has been known as the biggest promotional window of California’s cherry season, while the Fourth of July is the key holiday for Washington cherries” says Brianna Shales, marketing director, Stemilt Growers LLC, in Wenatchee, WA. “However, this year, the weeks following Memorial Day will be when retailers should increase and stay on top of promotions to keep volume moving.”

“From late May through June, we’ll have our 5 River Islands cherries grown in the unique region of the California delta. At the same time, Rainier cherries will go from May to July.”


The start of the summer grilling season on Memorial Day continues as a peak promotion theme for this dad’s holiday. Nearly three-fourths (74%) of men say they would rather man the grill on Father’s Day than have someone else grill for them, according to a 2021 survey by Oak Brook, IL-headquartered Ace Hardware.

“We typically promote horseradish with the grilling holidays,” says Matt McMillin, business development specialist for the J.R. Kelly Co., based in Collinsville, IL. “Horseradish goes great with all the major proteins and barbecue items, but it also works with many of the sides eaten on these holidays including things like mashed potatoes, deviled eggs and salads.”

The company offers year-round supply and a wide range of packaging options including 5-, 10-, and 50-pound bags, and individually shrink-wrapped roots. The shrink-wrap, J.R. Kelly’s newest option, extends shelf life and can promote assorted brands through private labeling.

Home grills aren’t the only barbecue options, as more families are heading into the great outdoors to camp. Over the past decade, the number of overall camping households increased by 23%, while active camping households surged by 68%, according to the 2024 Camping & Hospitality Report sponsored by the Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA).

This is the third year Melissa’s/World Variety Produce, in Vernon, CA, has offered its Camping Provisions promotion to retailers, says Robert Schueller, director of public relations. Products include items that are part of its steamed line, such as artichoke hearts, chickpeas, lentils, red beets and butternut squash, that shorten prep time. The promotion also includes its healthy Clean Snax and Coco Snax.

Camping-themed stickers, wobblers, shelf strips, bin signs, and racks are point-of-sale (POS) materials available to retailers. Each has a QR code for a contest where shoppers can win national park passes.

According to Robinson Fresh, in Eden Prairie, MN, a leader in fresh produce sourcing and logistics, creating bundle deals, like a “BBQ Pack” with a variety of veggies like corn, onions, and bell peppers for grilling, can elevate Fourth of July sales.

“Father’s Day creates a special niche for tropical fruits like lychee and passion fruit, which pair well with high-margin items such as specialty chocolates and premium beverages,” says Frieda’s Jackson. “This is a chance to cater to shoppers looking for unique, gift-worthy offerings that go beyond the typical.”

Another sweet sell is fresh grapes, and Sonora (Mexico) starts its grape harvest in mid-May. “It’s only a one-day ride to North American markets, compared to three weeks old or more from South America,” says Michael DuPuis, quality assurance and public relations manager for Divine Flavor LLC, in Nogales, AZ.

“Memorial Day is a target spot on the calendar, but we won’t harvest early to make the holiday and sacrifice brix in the fruit,” DuPuis emphasizes.

Specialty varieties like Cotton Candy, Jellyberries, and Gummyberries start in early June, he says, and Sweet Globe and Sweet Celebration start the second week of June.


The Fourth of July means cherry promotions at Sunset Foods, a five-store chain based in Highland Park, IL. “We will run a red, white and blue theme ad with Northwest cherries, Michigan blueberries, and white flesh peaches and nectarines,” says Vince Mastromauro, director of produce operations.

Red, white and blue fresh produce themes are a visual way to promote both patriotism and produce. Sunset Foods, a five-store chain in Illinois, runs a Fourth of July promotions with Northwest cherries, Michigan blueberries, and white flesh peaches and nectarines.

In July, Stemilt offers special packs of cherries each season, including branded varieties like Kyle’s Pick, a large size fruit with dessert flavors. Shales says the company has updated the branding on Kyle’s Pick packaging to reflect this special bag of cherries, which includes Bing, Sweetheart and Skeena varieties.

Watermelon is the most popular fruit served on the Fourth of July, with more than two-thirds of shoppers buying it, according to New York, NY-headquartered market research platform Gitnux’s Market Data Report, Statistics About the Most Popular Fourth of July Foods, last updated on Feb. 7, 2024.

Capitalizing on this, the National Watermelon Promotion Board (NWPB) holds its annual Watermelon Retail Merchandising Contest in July and August to coincide with July’s designation as National Watermelon Month and National Watermelon Day, Aug. 3. The NWPB offers a range of educational tools and point-of-sale materials for retailers to highlight the many benefits of watermelon. These resources include informative one-sheets, brochures, recipe cards and posters.

“This contest benefits both consumers and retailers, encouraging creative displays that attract customers and drive watermelon sales. Past entrants have seen an average sales increase of 20%,” says Juliemar Rosado, director of retail and international marketing at the Winter Springs, FL-based board.

Last summer, Heritage Co-op, in Brandon, Manitoba, Canada, won the NWPB’s grand prize in its 15th Watermelon Retail Merchandising Contest from 115 entries.

“Watermelon is a leading sale item during the summer at our retail location,” says Tyler Russell, produce manager at the Brandon store, one of the 160-plus location members of Federated Co-operatives Limited, headquartered in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. “Last year was my first year being a produce manager, so I was driven to use the volume of this location and the space available to do something spectacular.”

Russell’s display, called “Watermelon Bowlarama,” was made of a 16-foot bowling alley lane, with bowling pins and a scorecard screen of four different melons competing together. The display had a bowling ball return machine to create the image of the bowling alley. Russell finished off the display by surrounding the bowling alley with bins of watermelon, and a huge archway above the alley with the same high graphic bins. He had the retailer’s marketing department create two Iron Man posters with information on “how to pick the best watermelon.”

The department also printed POS recipe cards for a watermelon mint mocktail. In addition to the bowling alley display, Russell filled the store’s front cooler with different types of cut watermelon and watermelon-decorated cakes from the bakery. The display ran from July 27 to Aug. 3.

“With the option of a full cooler of fresh-cut watermelons for our guests, we sold 645% more fresh-cut watermelons during the week compared to 2022. We also sold 824 whole seedless watermelons compared to 662 at this location the year prior,” Russell reports.

“These results will continue to push us to try harder to increase sales and increase foot traffic into our store for guests who want to view our watermelon displays. The contest has become a great team bonding experience and pushes us to think outside of the box.”

Melissa’s/World Variety offers two new themed promotions perfect for Fourth of July celebrations. One is Made in America, which features grown-in-the-USA fruits and vegetables, such as specialty melons, stone fruit, grapes, fresh figs, grilling vegetables, and tropicals from Florida like passionfruit, starfruit and dragon fruit. Available POS includes an Iron Man poster, recipe card for 50-50 burgers made with beef and mushrooms, bin sign and attribute and fact cards.

The second is its Seafood Boil theme that centers on ingredients like variety potatoes and onions, garlic, lemons, limes and corn, which are cooked with fresh summer seafood. POS features an Iron Man poster with a QR code to enter a contest to win a year’s worth of Dutch Yellow Potatoes, sign cards, and bin signage.


Summertime starts the locally grown season for many retailers.

“The first bi-color corn arrives in mid-July,” says Sunset Foods’ Mastromauro. “The same farm, Von Bergen’s, will also grow and truck a whole summer veg program, with zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes and greens. We have a digital media build-up to the beginning of the peak July and August season. In-store, we create a designated display set with signage that shows an image of the farm and farming family. It screams local.”

Summer pickling season is when J.R. Kelly’s McMillin says he sees a jump in demand for horseradish. “Horseradish is used to both flavor pickles, as well as the tannin within horseradish helping to keep pickles crisper for a longer time. Ideally, it’s best to have horseradish near the cucumbers so that folks don’t have to search through multiple sections to find the different pickling ingredients.”

Like cherries, Hatch chile peppers are only available seasonally. A general name for green peppers grown in New Mexico’s Hatch Valley region, the season for Hatch chiles runs from late July to early August to September. Melissa’s/World Variety Produce hosts hundreds of chile-roasting promotions with retailers nationwide during this time. The company also sells shelf-stable Hatch-flavored products year-round that can be cross-merchandised at Hatch roastings for added rings. These include Hatch salsa, Hatch Dijon mustard and Hatch barbecue sauce.


Every four years, TOPS Friendly Markets, a 148-store chain headquartered in Williamsville, NY, with stores in New York, Pennsylvania and Vermont, celebrates the Summer Olympic Games with a four-week produce promotion. Each week, a specific produce item is spotlighted and tied to a sport. Past themes have included Weightlifting with Washington Cherries, Wrestling with Watermelon, Swimming with Seedless Grapes and Boxing with Berries. Produce managers chain-wide put their most creative foot forward to build winning displays.

Every four years, TOPS Friendly Markets celebrates the Summer Olympic Games with a four-week produce promotion. Each week, a specific produce item is spotlighted and tied to a sport. Past themes have included Weightlifting with Washington Cherries, Wrestling with Watermelon, Swimming with Seedless Grapes and Boxing with Berries.

“This sales contest creates a lot of excitement in the stores for both our customers and produce employees,” says Jeff Cady, director of produce and floral. “It comes at a great time, after the Fourth of July and before Labor Day when there can be a lull.”

Warm weather hydration is a marketing topic retailers can tap into, and aimed at athletes and non-athletes alike.

Lemons are a natural fit, with research showing that two-thirds of lemon shoppers use this fruit to flavor their water, according to Cassie Howard, senior director of category management and marketing for Sunkist Growers, in Valencia, CA. “Adding secondary displays of lemons in your water aisle can help boost consumer engagement with this trend.”

“Also, we have seen added interest in 3- and 5-pound bags. Our 5-pound lemon bag is a terrific way for retailers to give consumers value when making lemonade or baking, while not impacting sales in other SKUs.”

Lemons drive recipe inspiration, with over two-thirds purchasing lemons for recipes, Howard adds. “Sunkist’s lifestyle bins for lemons are perfect for cross-promotional opportunities with seafood and cocktails/liquor, and lemonade stands.”


Labor Day, which falls on Sept. 2 this year, is the last hurrah for local corn, local vegetables, and summer stone fruit like peaches, nectarines and plums, says Sunset Foods’ Mastromauro. “Labor Day is also a big banana holiday because of back to school, and early varieties of apples for the same reason.”

Like Memorial Day kicks off summer, Labor Day opens the door to fall.

“Late in the summer or the early fall, give horseradish have a prominent role in the specialty display,” says J.R. Kelly’s McMillin. “It’s often included in fire cider tonic, with ingredients like ginger, so cross-promoting these two items close together makes it easy for shoppers.”