Originally printed in the September 2020 issue of Produce Business.
There is a fall occasion to entice every shopper to buy more produce — from Rosh Hashanah, The World Series and the football season, right through Halloween and Thanksgiving.
The transition to autumn represents the ideal opportunity for retailers to shift gears and promote new seasonal fruits and vegetables. The generous concentration of holidays between September 22 and December 21 brings the added bonus of specific moments around which to truly focus merchandising and drive sales.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, United Supermarkets in Lubbock, TX, expects robust fall promotions across its 94 stores in Texas and New Mexico. “We’re not anticipating any impact at this point; if anything, probably an increase in orders,” explains produce business director, Joseph Bunting. “The only thing you likely won’t see a whole lot of this year is produce demonstrations.”
Large, extended displays with aggressive price offers and usage signs will be rolled out at United Supermarkets. “We promote all the favorite produce, depending on the holiday,” Bunting says. “Sweet potatoes, potatoes, leafy greens like cabbages, plus onions and celery are all big sellers for making popular dishes. We’ll have nuts, and we always promote apples and citrus since they’re in season. Berries and grapes do well, too.”
Another retailer anticipating little change to its fall promotions is SpartanNash in Grand Rapids, MI, which operates 155 stores in nine U.S. states. “We remain committed to delivering the core items everyone will be looking for in a safe and healthy way,” notes Vic Savanello, regional vice president, Produce & Floral.
“We focus on the traditional fall vegetables for cooking and celebrating, including pumpkins, squash, sweet potatoes and more. In addition, SpartanNash stores offer exotic and different fruits for those looking for new tastes and experiences as well as ornamental items to decorate and enhance celebrations, such as flowers and arrangements for the dinner table.”
Price promotions, coupled with cross promotions that help customers create special meals, will drive SpartanNash’s merchandising efforts. “We find that quality and value, more than anything else, work best to increase sales during any season,” adds Savanello.
PROVIDE VISUAL APPEAL
From Halloween through Thanksgiving, pumpkins and squash remain iconic visually appealing produce items for decorating porches and tables, and baking pies.
“There is something for everyone because of their different sizes, shapes and beautiful colors,” remarks Michele Youngquist, owner of Bay Baby Produce, Mount Vernon, WA. “Our pumpkins and organic winter squash are both sweet and savory for so many baking purposes.”
Halloween has developed into a steadfast eating and snacking celebration for SpartanNash shoppers. “We cater to every aspect of that celebration and continue the effort all the way through the season to the New Year,” Savanello explains.
Bay Baby produces baking, painted and ornamental pumpkins, organic squash and decorated apples. Every fall, Youngquist says consumers are decorating increasingly with pumpkins and squash. The firm has even launched NFL/NCAA logo-painted and football-themed pumpkins to bring excitement to football tailgating and home decorating.
To drive up sales and save on labor, Youngquist recommends retailers use pre-mixed, half pallets of different pumpkin and squash varieties for instant displays that create a focal point at entrances to the produce section. Also on trend are one-stop-shopping areas for all fall decorating and baking needs.
“Pumpkin decorating and squash baking items are the perfect low-ticket, feel-good fall item; whether decorating or baking,” Youngquist advises. “These items can be paired together for cross promotional ads and merchandising sales. Merchandising complementing items, such as Indian corn, corn stalks, and even tailgating themes is a great way to capture additional sales.”
Above all, remember that shoppers purchase with their eyes. “Produce department staff should keep products in tip-top shape with superior merchandising, clean, fresh and visually-appealing products,” concludes Youngquist.
HALLOWEEN SALES OPPORTUNITIES
Retailers should definitely boost garlic inventories ahead of Thanksgiving and Christmas to avoid empty shelves and lost opportunities, especially this year.
“Due to the nature of the pandemic, there is a surge in demand for fresh California garlic,” reveals Ken Christopher, executive vice president of Christopher Ranch, Gilroy, CA. “In parts of the country there remains a national garlic shortage. I’d recommend retailers to not rely so heavily on old data, as the pandemic has led to extraordinary demand that is unlikely to line up with the past.”
Considering demand is set to remain very high, Christopher says there is limited risk in oversupplying stores in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving since garlic from dry storage should remain “quite fresh”.
Demand traditionally spikes for garlic, shallots and onions during the fall when consumers switch to warmer, heartier dishes, with Christopher noting that garlic is key to almost every family dish across nearly every culture.
Halloween presents another sales opportunity. “Since garlic has a deep history of being associated with vampires and the like, it’s a fun and clever way to get consumers talking about garlic,” Christopher explains, adding that he introduces Halloween-themed packaging for September and October. “We even run competitions with some retailers, with cash prizes going to those who stage the most elaborate and spooky displays.”
Overall, garlic is effectively merchandised when sold next to avocados and tomatoes. “Not only does this make for a relatively one-stop-shop for making great salsa, the colorful nature of the other produce really makes garlic’s white color pop,” says Christopher.
For displays, garlic is best sold in glossy, colorful, 30-pound open display cases that provide the country of origin and details of the exact farm.
“Consumers want to know more about the food that they’re feeding their families, and this is particularly true during the pandemic,” Christopher notes.
CLASSIC FALL ITEMS
Candy apples—apples coated in caramel or chocolate—have become very popular as a fall party favor or gift for family gatherings. They do very well on large displays supported by ads to attract impulse purchases.
“The caramel apple takes people back to their childhood and simpler times like going to the fair,” remarks Chad Hackenbracht, vice president of production at Tastee Apple in Newcomerstown, OH. “It is such a unique gift that everyone who receives one is surprised, and becomes a customer themselves.”
To lift sales, Hackenbracht recommends displaying a large variety of flavors mixed with other fall-themed produce to draw attention, and help cross sales. Sampling, in particular, can be a game changer to hook consumers.
Anytime from the third week of August through October is the best time to drive caramel apple sales. As for its Gourmet Chocolate Apples, which are perfect for sharing among six to eight people, the two weeks leading up to any major holiday, like Thanksgiving and Christmas, are ideal for pushing sales for parties and family gatherings.
Cranberries have long been synonymous with sauce for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, but there are many more reasons to purchase the fruit, says Nigel Cooper, managing member of The Cranberry Network, Wisconsin Rapids, WI.
“Cranberries are a classic fall produce item because they are only available from mid-September to mid-December,” Cooper points out. “Also, cranberries freeze well for use during the offseason, so we recommend that retailers advertise to buy extra to freeze for use later.”
Cranberries work well in festive decorations too. Since they float, cranberries can be placed in water with a floating candle. They can be strung with popcorn for a Christmas garland, and there are numerous cranberry dip/pie/muffin recipes for holiday, school and sporting treats.
The fresh season remains the best time to push sales, and Cooper says this year is no exception since COVID-19 has not affected the industry. He advises retailers to display cranberries within coolers in the produce section.
“Cranberries are best refrigerated at 38 degrees F,” Cooper states. “Product shipped in closed boxes should be taken out of its packaging and placed into coolers. Display-ready case packaging can be placed directly into coolers.”
For additional sales, retailers should display cranberries prominently and near other holiday items. “Cranberries go well with caramel dips, smoothies, breads and baking,” notes Cooper. “Retailers could place recipe cards, pre-packed smoothie products, caramel dips or bread mixes near to fresh cranberries so consumers can try new uses.”
In-store demos, recipes for traditional and on-trend fall dishes, storage ideas for year-round consumption, and brochures explaining cranberries’ ‘super fruit’ health benefits also help.
All berries play an important role in the fall, especially as increased imports fill supply gaps for continued promotions through September and October.
“Berries can be incorporated into main dishes for an extra fruity kick, added to the many baked goods that are typically eaten over the holidays, used for festive cocktails and mocktails and blended into smoothies,” notes CarrieAnn Arias, vice president of marketing at Naturipe Farms, Salinas, CA. “They also make for a great addition to cheese boards, snack plates and appetizers when entertaining guests for sporting events.”
Eaten as a healthy snack in between indulgent meals or as a new twist in classic recipes, berries can help to maintain a balanced diet over the holidays. This year, in particular, consumers are looking for nutritious food to eat during the pandemic, with Arias pointing out that blueberries can improve immunity.
Given their portability, berries are ideal to merchandise alongside lunchboxes and backpacks for back-to-school. And since berries can be the lead product or an accompaniment to favorite holiday dishes, there are further cross promotional opportunities.
As for messaging, Arias recommends retailers focus on telling shoppers why they should buy berries during the fall. “Creative tactics, such as menu ideas, demonstrations and recipe cards, are all ways to help a retailer share its message,” she indicates.
Considering berry sales remain robust, Arias advises retailers to maintain full berry displays with various pack sizes for different-sized households. “When consumers see blueberries next to strawberries, blackberries and raspberries, they are more likely to pick up more than one type, or substitute one for the other, rather than opting out of the entire category if they aren’t feeling their go-to berry that week,” Arias explains. “Buy-one-get-one-free promotions also help retailers increase shopper basket size.”