The category gains popularity due to unique, sweet coatings.
Produce executives have the ability to capitalize on a delicious commodity by merchandising sweet-coated dried fruits and nuts to their fullest. “In a world where consumers are always looking for a new experience, sweet-coated dried fruits and nuts add an indulgent, unique twist to the usual produce offerings,” says Eric Sim, senior brand associate with Orchard Valley Harvest from John B. Sanfilippo & Son Inc., in Elgin, IL.
According to Chad Hartman, director of marketing for Tropical Foods in Charlotte, NC, this is a growing category, especially during the holidays. “Though we have always seen the basics, such as chocolate peanuts, chocolate almonds and chocolate raisins, we are starting to see more unique items helping grow the category,” he says.
Such unique products support growth in sales. “Our Orchard Valley Harvest brand has enjoyed exceptional success, with double-digit sales growth in our last fiscal year aided considerably by Dark Chocolate Almonds and last year’s launch of Dark Chocolate Cherry and Dark Chocolate Blueberry in multi-pack and grab-and-go sizes,” says Sim.
In the past several years, Market Basket Food Stores based in Nederland, TX, with 34 stores spanning southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana, has seen an increase in its overall movement of sweet-coated dried fruit and nuts. “These products give us the variety our customers are looking for versus the same old, same old,” says Dane Legendre, produce supervisor.
Consumers are getting tired of just plain commodities in the dried fruit and nut category according to Stephanie Blackwell, chief executive of Aurora Products located in Stratford, CT. “They are looking for new and exciting value-added items,” she says. “Thus, these items are becoming more prominent as a value-added snack each year.”
Why Sell With Produce?
Promoting sweet-coated dried fruits and nuts in produce proves to be beneficial. “Selling anything in produce is an advantage because it is typically the first place a shopper goes,” says Hartman. “The product is being sold with like items, thus making it a huge advantage to the consumer to be able to buy a tub of cashews right next to a tub of chocolate cashews.”
Blackwell agrees produce departments offer more visibility. “Therefore, it leads to more sales,” she says.
George’s Market at Dreshertown, an upscale independent grocer located in Dresher, PA, recommends thoughtful product placement within the department. “Butter toffee pecans are delicious with salads,” says Nancy Grace, produce manager. “So, placing them near the bagged salad section along with items such as honey-glazed walnuts and cranberries is an easy sell.”
According to Sim, at most grocery retail locations consumers must pass through the produce section to get to other store departments. “Additionally, more consumers are now perimeter shopping and bypassing the center store entirely, which is why produce has become such an important place to capture shoppers,” he says. “However, it is critical to deliver an experience consumers expect in the produce section.”
Market Basket Food Stores stresses the importance of the consumer experience. “In our produce department, we emphasize ‘fresh,’” says Legendre. “When these items are sold in the grocery aisle, for example, that same suggestion of ‘fresh’ is not relayed.”
Offering a “fresh” product in the produce department has several meanings to shoppers. “Consumers buy products in the section that are fresher, less processed and use ingredients they can pronounce,” says Sim.
Tropical Foods considers sweet-coated dried fruit and nuts a natural extension to a produce offering. “As you find nuts, fruit and dried fruit, it is only natural for a shopper to seek out those same products with a little added decadence in the same area,” says Hartman. “It is very important for shoppers to find these items together to make their consumer experience easier.”
Blackwell highlights another reason why these products are displayed in the produce department. “Many times sweet-coated nuts have a shortened shelf life due to the roasting and production process, and are therefore put into produce,” she says.
Stores can be challenged by consumer expectations when presenting sweet-coated dried fruit and nuts as part of produce. “Consumers expect healthier, cleaner products from the produce section,” says Sim. “However, these challenges can still be met with sweet-coated dried fruits and nuts by not straying too far from these demands. For instance, Orchard Valley Harvest meets produce consumers’ needs for products that are ‘closer to the earth’ by offering dark chocolate-coated fruits and nuts that are pure, simple and authentic. We use ingredients like 64 percent cacao dark chocolate with no soy lecithin and expeller pressed sunflower oil to keep our products free from artificial colors, flavors and preservatives.”
According to Blackwell, although the demand for these value-added items is increasing, they still do not move in the same volume as lettuce or potatoes. “The buyer needs to be aware of the shelf life limitations of sweetened nuts and not carry a plethora of them on the shelf,” she says.
Appeal To The Consumer
Giving consumers choices when promoting sweet-coated dried fruit and nuts is crucial. “Consumers will always feel they can find something fresh, unique and in-step with their demands at any given moment,” says Sim. “Orchard Valley Harvest currently offers nine attractive and delicious multi-packs, including four with dark chocolate-covered nuts or dried fruits.”
Stores can also appeal to customers by marketing the taste and health combination. “These items are a sweet treat, yet still give the feeling of healthy, making them a perfect impulse buy when shoppers are picking up their weekly oranges and apples,” says Tropical Foods’ Hartman.
“It seems the more information circulating about the health benefits of eating dried fruits and nuts, the stronger the pull,” says George’s Market’s Grace. “Having variety for all is key.”
Market Basket Food Stores’ Legendre definitely considers the sweet-coated dried fruit and nuts an impulse item. “Customers buy with their eyes; we have seen positive benefits with sampling,” he says. “We sample and sample and sample. Word of mouth is our best advertisement.”
Adding incentives can also increase sales. “Because of the nature of the impulse buy, in-store temporary price reduction is the best way to generate interest with consumers,” says Hartman.
In addition to product selection, Orchard Valley Harvest believes programs incentivizing trial are one of the better ways to get consumers to purchase and repeat purchase sweet-coated dried fruits and nuts. “On-pack and in-store coupons might be a more effective way to ensure consumers will see your offer,” says Sim.
“These items are a sweet treat, yet still give the feeling of healthy, making them a perfect impulse buy when shoppers are picking up their weekly oranges and apples.”
— Chad Hartman, Tropical Foods
“Occasionally the packages come with their own coupons attached, or they are part of the weekly ad,” says Grace. “That may inspire shoppers to try them, but I believe they sell themselves. They are both nutritious and delicious added to food or on their own.”
A well organized display is fundamental to attract shoppers. “We have seen success in having major displays, display ready cases, cross merchandising with beer, as well as shippers, etc.,” says Blackwell.
Special occasions also provide incentives to promote. “We have had success with building complete displays for the holidays, incorporating sweet-coated product in holiday displays, and cross-merchandising with like or complementary items,” says Hartman.
According to Sim, multi-packs are also offered in attractive shippers that have stopping power with consumers and draw attention to the product.
Combinations And Coatings
Many mixtures and combinations with sweet coatings have gained popularity over the past several years. “Peanuts, chocolate almonds and yogurt raisins are the most popular, but we are seeing other options becoming more prominent, such as praline nuts and dark chocolate-covered fruit,” says Hartman.
Orchard Valley Harvest has found success combining dark chocolate with all sorts of nuts and dried fruits. “Seeing all the combinations on the shelf, I think the only limitation is imagination when it comes to dark chocolate,” says Sim. “Dark chocolate almonds, dark chocolate cherries and dark chocolate blueberries have become very popular consumer choices within the Orchard Valley Harvest catalogue of non-GMO and no artificial nuts, dried fruits and trail mixes.”
Although choices in combinations have changed, certain coatings are still popular when paired with dried fruit or nuts. For Aurora Products, honey roasted, chocolate and yogurt coverings are popular. Legendre says carob and sugar-glazed are most popular coatings at Market Basket. And at George’s Market, customers prefer honey, butter toffee, carob, chocolate and yogurt, according to Grace.