Holiday shoppers will stock up on dried fruits and nuts in the produce aisles for snacking, baking and gifts.
Originally printed in the November 2021 issue of Produce Business.
Retail organizations and suppliers are lining up to help make the holidays a bigger occasion for dried fruit and nuts.
The end-of-year holidays are good times for pistachios, as the season is the top selling time for the business, says Adam Cooper, senior vice president of marketing, The Wonderful Co., Los Angeles, CA.
“At Wonderful Pistachios, we’re focusing on promoting all our products during the holiday season because we know our in-shell and no-shell varieties are purchased for different snacking occasions, all of which have a legitimate seat, or bowl, at the table during this time of year.”
Cooper adds the in-shell products, especially larger pack-sizes, are excellent for entertaining at home or for gatherings of family and friends. “They’re also the perfect snack for football game watching, which we know is a top usage occasion for pistachios this time of year.”
On the flip side, the no-shell varieties are an easy and healthy on-the-go snack ideal for holiday travelers, he adds. No shells are also ideal for holiday cooking and baking, and are a great addition to many side dishes.
To support retail sales, Wonderful Co. is adopting some classic imagery for use in produce departments. Cooper says retrofitted bins will feature a festive nutcracker to get shoppers into the holiday spirit. “Wonderful Pistachios bins capture significant impulse sales and stores with display bins see up to two times higher sales velocities compared to stores without.”
He says that tying into ongoing and seasonal events that have a snacking component is always a necessary part of driving engagement.
“Merchandising is extremely important to Wonderful Pistachios: eye-catching POS, such as our nutcracker holiday bins, or the sports-themed displays we roll out at various times of the year, can help drive impulse sales at the point of purchase,” Cooper says, adding the company’s national merchandising team is available to help set up displays throughout the season.
PRODUCE DEPARTMENT GIFTS
In 2021, consumers may be looking for food gifts during this holiday season, as supply chain troubles worldwide limit imports of many consumer goods exchanged during year-end festivities. So, for some, getting ready for the holidays this year means seeking a new sort of gift.
“This year, we are launching our new product, Mini Medjools, and re-releasing our dark chocolate-covered medjool date,” says David Baxter, marketing director, Bard Valley Natural Delights, Yuma, AZ.
“The Mini Medjools are a new take on date rolls that are smaller and more snackable,” Baxter explains. “They are made from medjool dates and other wholesome ingredients and great for kids or adults. The chocolate-covered dates come in an eight-count gift box.”
Bard Valley Natural Delights is supporting its holiday product initiatives with “a significant merchandising program” that consists of pallet displays, shipper displays and racks. It is also running a monthlong consumer promotion during December featuring how to incorporate dates into holiday recipes.
“From these promotions, we typically get 10-plus million impressions, and they do a great job of educating consumers on the versatility and benefits of Medjool dates.”
At Torn & Glasser, Los Angeles, CA, sales manager Chris Large says the focus for the holidays is shell nuts and related seasonal items. He says promotion and merchandising can best be achieved by straightforward programs that build sales at a time when overstocks can be a problem.
“There’s not a lot of time to be too trendy,” Large says. “I like the metro racks that can be brought in/out, and the display-ready shippers for impact sales.”
He suggests, however, that holiday promotions should evolve with the consumer, and Torn & Glasser has moved in that direction, focusing on healthy eating.
“We have cut out a lot of the unhealthier dried fruit and nut items,” Large says.
INDULGENT HOLIDAY BAKING
When it comes to pecans, the holiday push has specific focus: baking.
“We focus primarily on indulgent recipes during this time of the year,” says Jeff Smutny, director of marketing and regulatory affairs at the American Pecan Council, Fort Worth, TX, who notes that consumers typically seek out pecans for their cooking during the holidays.
With pecans, produce departments have an opportunity to draw some consumer attention away from the baking aisle and even generate incremental sales by reminding consumers to include pecans in holiday cooking.
Produce departments can make a particular splash with pecans by using a little creativity and conveying a message about an authentically American item at a time of year when consumers are focused on tradition.
“We are the only native nut to America,” Smutny points out. “Some of our trees are hundreds of years old, which really speak to the tradition of America’s original snack food. Pecan pieces can add a little bit of holiday to every dish.”
Walnuts are a holiday natural, says Jennifer Olmstead, senior director of U.S. marketing and communications, California Walnut Board and Commission, Folsom, CA, but merchandising should take consideration of the different ways consumers use them in the holidays.
“Consumers naturally think of walnuts when it comes to celebrated holiday meals and treats, with their classic buttery flavor elevating any recipe,” she says. “All forms of walnuts sell during this season. However, this is also the time of year when there’s interest in walnuts in the shell. People enjoy having a bowl of walnuts and a nutcracker on hand, but walnuts in the shell are also great holiday décor.”
Setton Farms offers a large selection of products suitable for the holiday season. The offering includes the company’s Raw Pistachio Kernels, which have a vibrant green hue and distinctive flavor that makes it perfect for a wide range of baking and cooking applications, says Joseph Setton, vice president of domestic sales at Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella, Commack, NY. The company’s Premium Extra Large Pistachio Burlap Bag has been a consistent hit in the year-end timeframe, he says, adding that attractive packaging makes the item a great gift item for party hosts, friends, neighbors, and family alike. In addition, Setton Farm’s 100% all-natural Pistachio Oil is a raw and unfiltered oil and, so, a great finisher for a wide range of meals including holiday dishes. Indeed, he says, Setton products can combine in many foods for festive times.
“We encourage retailers to create recipe-ready displays, cross merchandising Setton Farms pistachios with herbs, fruits and/or vegetables to make it easier for consumers to grab everything they need,” Setton says.
HEALTHY COMFORT FOODS
Olmstead notes that, in the pandemic, consumers turned to comfort foods, but also grew more concerned about the benefits of eating right.
“There’s been greater interest in health, with the International Food Information Council’s 2021 Food & Healthy Survey showing that one in five consumers are actively seeking health benefits from their food,” she says. “We are seeing an emerging trend for the holidays where consumers are returning to traditional and whole food ingredients that offer multiple health benefits.”
Consumers associate walnuts with comfort, nostalgia and the kind of family recipes that they seek out during the holidays, Olmstead says. “As a holiday favorite, walnuts provide consumers tremendous value, between their nutrition and versatility in both sweet and savory, and traditional and modern recipes. A one-ounce serving provides protein and fiber, plus walnuts are the only nut rich in the essential plant-based omega-3,” she adds.
As consumers eat healthier, nuts and dried fruit become more attractive propositions across the board. That’s because, as The Wonderful Co.’s Cooper says, consumers still want what they eat to be interesting and fun.
“Wonderful Pistachios No Shells Flavors was named one of America’s fastest-growing snack brands, according to IRI,” he says. “Since launching our award-winning BBQ and Sea Salt & Vinegar flavored No Shells in March 2021, Wonderful Pistachios has seen record growth, further solidifying consumer demand for flavorful varieties of their favorite high-quality snacks. This past year, Wonderful Pistachios No Shells flavors generated 85% of total flavored snack nuts growth.”
Smutny says that pecans benefit from one pitch during the holidays and another during the rest of the year.
“We are 100% indulgent during the holidays,” he says. “We transition to healthier messaging starting in January.”
The pandemic has made consumers more likely to stock up at the grocery store, whether out of concern about continued risk from COVID-19, or worries about inventory shortages in the midst of national supply chain issues. Cooper is among those who say that stocking up has had an effect on the nuts category.
“As a result of this, Wonderful Pistachios’ larger sized bag sales are up 27%,” he says.
Baxter says consumers are concerned about wellness, but many want options combining healthiness and indulgence.
“This was one of the insights behind our dark chocolate-covered dates,” he says. “They have the indulgence of dark chocolate, but instead of sugar-loaded caramel center, there is a soft, chewy, caramel-tasting medjool date that brings all the health benefits of a whole fruit.”
Cooper says that cross-merchandising opportunities abound. “As the snacking category continues to explode, with more people seeking healthier options, one of the easiest ways to deliver on this is by putting two or more like-minded brands together,” he says.
“Most consumers buy on impulse when shopping in-store, so displaying Wonderful Pistachios next to Wonderful Halos and Wonderful pomegranates for instance, has made it easier for consumers to find healthy snack options all in one strategic location.”
“For major holidays and seasons, positioning product next to staple ingredients is incredibly beneficial as well,” he adds. “People may not think of adding chopped pistachios to their favorite sauteed or roasted vegetables, but when they see two of their favorite products next to each other in the produce section there are inevitably ‘Aha!’ moments that click.”
Partnerships have been effective for Bard Valley Natural Delights in the past, Baxter says. Last year, the company partnered with California walnuts on a cross promotion so when consumers bought both items, they would receive a $2 coupon. “Our retailer partners really got behind this idea as it helped boost sales for both items, but also showed consumers a new way to incorporate two healthy foods together,” he says.
Cross-merchandising can be an opportunity, although it has to be conducted with an awareness of the customer base, Torn & Glasser’s Large says, as well as a sense of what worked last season.
“Bringing nut butters to fresh produce was a hit last year, as well as the loose bulk gravity bins,” he says.
Olmstead recommends a joint display of walnuts with apples, pears or dried cranberries, along with recipe inspiration, to drive sales in the produce department. “Additionally, with the popularity of charcuterie boards, there’s opportunity to inspire consumers by cross-merchandising walnuts and fresh/dried fruits with cheeses and deli meats.”