By focusing on a few key areas, retailers can continue to drive sales for fresh Peruvian asparagus.
In the past two decades, Peru has risen to occupy a prime place in the sourcing of fresh market asparagus.
“According to the Department of Commerce, in 2016 the United States imported more than 470 million pounds of fresh asparagus, of which Peru represented approximately 40 percent,” says Priscilla Lleras-Bush, coordinator for the Peruvian Asparagus Importers Association (PAIA), a group of the top Peruvian asparagus importers who have joined forces to encourage overall growth of the category.
Jay Rodriguez, president of Crystal Valley Foods in Miami, and co-chair of PAIA, reports Peru continues to be a primary source for asparagus and a vital part of a year-round program. “With now more than 20 years of experience in exporting asparagus and the development of different growing regions in the country, Peru is able to produce asparagus year-round and supplement the shorter U.S. and the growing Mexican seasons,” he says.
Consistency, availability and quality are credited by Dan O’Connor, vice president of sales for Ayco Farms in Pompano Beach, FL, as making Peruvian asparagus critical to retailers. “Peak Peruvian season aligns with key promotional holidays for retailers,” he says. “Peru, on average, constitutes 60 percent of total seasonal volume.”
Richard Stiles, director of produce and floral for Redner’s Markets in Reading, PA, with 44 stores, agrees the Peruvian asparagus category continues to occupy an important place in the store’s program and increase in sales. “More and more people are using asparagus in different ways,” he says. “Having good quality supply from Peru allows us to continue our sales without having a gap.”
In tandem with the increased availability of fresh asparagus is the continued demand for the product by consumers. “U.S. per capita consumption of asparagus continues to hold steady and grow,” says Lleras-Bush. “According to USDA Economic Research Service statistics, 2016 reached 1.8 pounds per person — an increase from 2015. Retail has growing opportunity for asparagus sales as consumers continue to seek out value, healthy and convenient foods.”
“As the partnership between the grower-shipper and the retailer evolves, the better we plan the better prepared we all will be to support the consumer’s appetite.”
— Jeff Friedman, CarbAmericas
According to Jeff Friedman, president of CarbAmericas in Fort Lauderdale, FL, good planning is crucial to capitalizing on this opportunity. “To achieve a stable, year-round program, the earlier a retailer starts conversations the better to maximize sales and mitigate shortages. Planning to the retailer’s specific promotional and volume needs in advance has allowed us to succeed with Peruvian asparagus, as well as other seasonal sources. As the partnership between the grower-shipper and the retailer evolves, the better we plan the better prepared we all will be to support the consumer’s appetite.”
PAIA members suggest a few crucial merchandising tips to aid retailers in planning and selling for success.
While display strategies may vary based on market demographics, price point or store format, retailers are urged to think strategically in calling out asparagus to consumers. “Focal displays and expanded allocations are key,” says O’Connor. “Regardless of retail price, most customers are deterred when they see a small display allocation. It delivers a ‘not fresh, low quality’ image. It is crucial to provide fresh, full, abundant displays.”
Carlos Solf, director of procurement for Southern Specialties in Pompano Beach, FL, points out the importance of considering display type along with refrigeration aspects. “We prefer to see bulk asparagus merchandised under refrigeration,” he says. “These displays can be as large as space allows since the temperatures can be optimized. Island displays are fine as long as the product will only be displayed for a short time. These are best when asparagus is being promoted aggressively.”
To ensure quality, Crystal Valley’s Rodriguez says asparagus should be refrigerated. “Crushed ice displays should be minimal and well placed (such as end caps) with projected sell-through in a matter of hours to guarantee freshness to consumers,” he says.
Redner’ s displays its asparagus on special water-capable asparagus racks. “Ours have five shelves per rack and we fill each with water so the product is well maintained,” says Stiles. “The racks create the appearance of a wall of asparagus in the department and really catch the shoppers’ eye.”
“Green asparagus still dominates the category. White is the next most common and purple is the least sold. Interestingly, purple has a much higher impulse sale reaction when available versus the white.”
— Dan O’Connor, Ayco Farms
According to Tina Fisher, assistant produce manager at independent retailer Babbs Supervalu in Spencer, IN, quality has a lot to do with sales. “It’s crucial to keep the product at its best,” she says. “We use display cases with water because it really maintains quality. We noticed our sales have gone up since we started displaying in water.”
Retailers are urged to highlight asparagus with special displays to entice sales.
“Displaying asparagus on end caps always attracts attention,” says Rodriguez. “However, it is important to always keep these displays full and rotated. Some retailers use displays with bunches sitting in crushed ice, it gives an impression of freshness.”
According to O’Connor, as end-cap displays or additional refrigerated display fixtures placed in high-traffic areas offer best results. “This provides a destination, thereby driving incremental sales and attracting new customers to the item,” he says.
A Variety Of Sizes
PAIA suggests providing customers with options to increase sales. “Variety in sizes helps ensure all customers find something meeting their need,” says PAIA’s Lleras-Bush.
Rodriguez relates the most popular size currently for retailers is Standard/Large. “However, a few upscale retailers will offer X-Large and Jumbo sizes to consumers who want to grill asparagus,” he says. “Offering consumers a choice in size is forward-thinking.”
Though Standard remains the leader, O’Connor agrees larger sizes are no longer far behind. “Many retailers now are looking to ‘size up’ and incorporating Large and X-Large size asparagus into their merchandising plans,” he says. “Displaying Standard in produce and Large or X-Large sizes in additional locations such as seafood and fresh-cut meat displays will increase sales. This is proving to be a success as retailers identify savvy asparagus shoppers in the market.”
Different sizes may also have competitive pricing advantages.
“Small asparagus frequently provides great value since pricing is very competitive and there are more spears to the bunch,” says Southern Specialties’ Solf.
Stiles reports Redner’ s maintains its bulk displays in small to medium sizes. “This gives us the ability to hit the most demand.”
Babb’s promotes whatever size is available. “Sometimes it’s the thin and sometimes it’s the larger,” says Fisher. “It’s really about what is the best deal at the time.”
Color And Packaging
Retailers can also take advantage of different colors and packaging options.
“White and purple asparagus, and the increasing value-added products, add interest and excitement to the category,” says Lleras-Bush.
Green asparagus still dominates the category, according to Ayco’s O’Connor, reining in at 90 percent of all asparagus sales. “White is the next most common and purple is the least sold,” he says. “Interestingly, purple has a much higher impulse sale reaction when available versus the white.”
Stores can use colored asparagus, especially white, to dress up the category.
“Signage is an easy tool to increase sales, as it helps consumers see why they should purchase. During key promotional periods, offering and highlighting additional colors or sizes via signage can boost sales.”
—Jeff Friedman, CarbAmericas
“We encourage displaying white asparagus next to green,” says Solf. “The color break not only attracts consumers, but offers variety on the shelf.”
Redner’ s carries white asparagus when it’s available. “Demand isn’t always consistent, but we do find some of our customers want
it,” says Stiles. “There is a lot of food curiosity now, especially with Millennials who want new things. Offering white will add-on sales for those customers.”
Value-added options are also making headway in the category. “We are seeing new options with packaged fresh asparagus aimed at making it even more convenient for customers,” says Lleras-Bush. “Retailers can capitalize on displaying these in different applications.”
According to Solf, Southern Specialties’ Southern Selects asparagus tips are perfect for the grab-and-go section. “Club size packs are featured on different shelves,” he says. “Trimmed, ready-to-microwave tips are also a great value-added option.”
Sell The Nutrional Benefits
Stores can capitalize on the nutritional power of asparagus.
“Asparagus is an all-around healthy vegetable due to its rich nutrient composition and lengthy laundry list of health-promoting effects,” says Solf. “It is high in fiber — a natural digestive aid and weight-loss promoter since it makes you feel fuller, longer — and has a low caloric value. It is packed with antioxidants and phytochemicals, which demonstrate disease-fighting and anti-carcinogenic capabilities.”
Ayco Farms’ O’Connor suggests the health benefits lend to feature-promotions themed on healthy eating. “Unlike other ‘superfood’ items boasting high antioxidant qualities and digestive health, asparagus is much more available and affordable when compared in price per pound,” he says.
PAIA encourages retailers to promote a multitude of health aspects. “According to Produce Marketing Association’s Nutrition Facts and Label Guide, asparagus is a good source of potassium, vitamin A and vitamin C,” says Lleras-Bush. “Asparagus is low in fat and contains no cholesterol. It is also rich in antioxidant rutin and folacin (B6), which has been proven important in the duplication of cells for growth and repair of the body.”
PAIA’s Category Statistics and Trends document lists the nutrient content descriptors allowed as: fat-free; saturated fat-free; sodium-free; cholesterol-free; low calorie; good source of vitamin A and C; and high in folate (add 30 percent folate to label). “The health aspects of asparagus really appeal to a wide segment of the market,” says Lleras-Bush.
Although consumption has increased, Crystal Valley’s Rodriguez believes there is still great potential for growth and opportunities to reach consumers. “It is important to continue to educate customers about usage and health benefits,” he says. “In-store demos are a great vehicle for increasing retail movement of both white and green asparagus.”
Redner’s Markets uses digital options to promote recipes and usage. “We put a lot of recipes on our Facebook page and our website,” says Stiles. “It’s a good way to stimulate our shoppers’ interest and culinary creativity without having to print or maintain physical material.”
Signage is touted as a simple way to reach the customer directly.
“Signage helps consumers see why they should purchase,” says CarbAmericas’ Friedman. “During key promotional periods, offering and highlighting additional colors or sizes via signage can boost sales. Cooking and prepping suggestions, nutritional aspects and the versatility of the product are important messages to focus on with signage.”
Babbs Supervalu writes out cards and usage information to help stimulate sales. “Our customers really like this,” says Fisher. “They don’t have to look for the information because it’s right there in front of them when they’re making purchase decisions.”
PAIA encourages retailers to use its Category Statistics and Trends document as a source of information for POS. “This is an excellent marketing document for retailers,” says Solf. “We suggest they utilize this to educate their customers.”
Pair It Up
Cross-merchandising is another great way to increase sales, according to Friedman. “In the end, taking the guesswork out of cooking drives consumers to put more items in their basket,” he says. “Though asparagus must remain in the refrigerated cases or in displays with ice, retailers can build displays around these of other items pairing well with asparagus, such as vegetables used for roasting. They can also suggest asparagus pairing well with protein. This tactic can be particularly effective during peak consumption periods as consumers will seek out new ideas.”
Redner’s highly values cross-merchandising asparagus in meat and seafood. “When someone is buying salmon or steaks it’s easy for them to grab asparagus to complement their dinner,” says Stiles. “It’s one of our most effective tools for increasing sales.”
Southern Specialties’ Solf suggests displaying asparagus next to cheese, lemons and grilling products. “We also encourage retailers to offer grilled asparagus or asparagus salads in their foodservice outlets and deli areas,” he says. “Including asparagus presentations in the deli and grab-and-go areas of the store helps expose consumers to new options.”
Crystal Valley’s Rodriguez notes asparagus is a favorite for cookouts, parties and family gatherings. “It is quickly becoming a holiday staple, so retailers should cross-merchandise asparagus with meats and other grilling and holiday essentials.
Cross-merchandising is even more prevalent in Redner’s Markets’ recipe-driven demos. “Providing a demo of an entire recipe versus just samples of product allows us to showcase multiple products in a great usage application and drive sales of several items,” says Stiles.