Winter Merchandising Retail Strategies

Romanesco CranberriesPhoto Courtesy of Babé Farms

Retailers prepare with smart merchandising strategies to move the season’s commodities.

Potato Basket

Photo Courtesy of Idaho Potato Commission

Winter starts on December 21 and lasts through the end of February. In between are the year-end holidays, the health-focused resolutions of the New Year, Super Bowl Sunday, and National Heart Health Month, which all provide retailers opportunities for special promotions and merchandising that will keep both produce sales and consumers healthy all winter.

Thanksgiving through New Year’s

Commodities such as sweet potatoes, cranberries and winter squash have a strong association with Thanksgiving, which signals the transition to winter. The holiday is traditionally a time for turkey and stuffing, which spurs sales of parsley, sage and thyme. These and other fresh herbs have become a prominent part of produce departments across the country, thanks in large part to cable TV cooking shows.

“Fresh herbs are a big trend nationally,” says Chick Goodman, vice president sales and marketing for Coosemans Worldwide, headquartered in Christiansted, Virgin Islands. “They have a 15-year track record of double-digit growth.” Fruits and nuts make great gift basket fillers and complement holiday-themed gatherings. It is suggested retailers cross-merchandise both during the holidays to increase sales.

Susan Noritake, market development manager USA for Zespri Kiwifruit, based in New Zealand, suggests retailers “place all of the ingredients for appetizers and cocktails together to help promote healthy party foods and drinks.” Zespri developed recipes to feature kiwis in drinks, appetizers, entrées and desserts. Noritake suggests using recipe cards and other POS materials to inspire consumers to purchase kiwis and other ingredients.

“A display of creative edible holiday arrangements inspires consumers to incorporate vegetables and fruits into their holiday décor,” says Ande Manos, marketing/business development, Babé Farms Specialties, based in Santa Maria, CA. Manos says retailers should “collaborate with the floral department to create artful holiday veggie arrangements utilizing the contrasting shapes and colors of the season; red and white French breakfast, white icicle radishes, conical Romanesco cauliflower and cranberries make for a truly unique holiday centerpiece.”

The holiday season is also prime time for tubers. Potatoes are year-round kitchen staples for sure, but many more Idaho potatoes get mashed this time of year. “It is important to properly merchandise potatoes by making them clearly visible, merchandising all varieties in one location, and clearly marketing pricing and promotions,” says Jamie Bowen, marketing manager for the Idaho Potato Commission, based in Eagle, ID. “Consumers will buy multiple varieties of potatoes if they are clearly visible.”

Healthy New Year’s Resolutions

After the overindulgence of the holiday season, many of us make New Year’s resolutions. These typically include promises to lose weight, eat better and improve overall health. Retailers can take advantage of these good intentions by promoting the health benefits of any number of commodities.

Manos recommends retailers “market to the consumer who is looking to the produce aisle after the holidays for that healthy start to a new year. Introduce healthy alternatives with in-house demos showcasing simple fresh ideas that can easily be executed by the most novice at-home chef.” Some of her suggestions for healthy food swaps include substituting butter with mashed avocado on toast; spaghetti squash in place of pasta; and green cabbage leaves as a wrap instead of a hamburger bun.

Colorful graphic display risers provide retailers the opportunity to convey the health message in store. Advertising is an opportunity also, as Zespri’s Noritake points out, “I do see an opportunity for retailers to ‘tell a story’ about the benefits of eating kiwi in their print ads or social media pages. I think a similar approach for citrus could be extremely beneficial to build up resistance to colds and flu.”

This message would certainly resonate with parents, but Millennials are prime targets too. “Retailers understand that traditional TV and print advertisement is less effective, and Millennials spend more time with digital engagement,” says Noritake. “I see retailers making this adjustment to reach Millennials through these channels.”

Potatoes are so commonplace that their health benefits often get overlooked, but retailers can remind consumers of the healthy aspects of spuds. “Idaho potatoes are the only potatoes certified by the American Heart Association as a heart-healthy food,” says Bowen of the Idaho Potato Commission. “It’s important for us, as well as retailers, to educate consumers on their health benefits.”

February is National Heart Health Month, and retailers would be wise to keep the health message strong right through the last month of the season. “The retailers that include health messages on signs and have dietitians on staff are seeing increased lift in sales,” says Noritake. She believes larger displays, signage and tie-ins with social media will further strengthen the health message. For its part, Zespri works with supermarket dietitians to promote health awareness to the wider community.

Winter may hamper most outdoor physical activities, but many people use these months to train for athletic events in the spring. Andy Tudor, vice president of business development and marketing for Rainier Fruit, based in Selah, WA, has seen success marketing toward such events. “We have not focused on one specific holiday as much as we have focused on healthy lifestyles with our new consumer marketing campaign #RunWithRainier,” says Tudor. “Last year, our partnership with the Boston Marathon allowed us to do unique in-store packaging that was highly received by both consumers and retailers and created a unique market position that got consumers excited and didn’t blend in with other traditional marketing noise.”

Super Bowl

Brooklyn Fare Market ProduceThe Super Bowl in February is essentially a U.S. national holiday, and it’s also a great time to promote items for use in fruit bowls and vegetable trays. “I obviously have a bias,” says Bob DiPiazza, president of Pasadena, CA-based Sun Pacific, “but Cuties and Mighties make great snack items for the holidays and for the game. Other snacking items like vegetable trays, peeled cut carrots, cut fruit or other fruits eaten out of hand are easy to consume while glued to the screen.”

DiPiazza believes cross-merchandising avocados with other guacamole ingredients is a great idea, and nut shippers should be used for promoting nuts as snacks for game day. Potatoes are seldom sidelined during the Big Game, and Bowden of the Idaho Potato Commission suggests merchandising them with bacon bits, salad dressings and other toppings. “Using items like these to inspire dishes, such as Idaho Potato Skins, would be very successful during the Super Bowl.”

Walter P. Rawl and Sons, Inc., based in Pelion, SC, offers cookbooks to help consumers plan for more than just football. “We create several e-cookbooks throughout the year themed to different occasions, such as seasons, tailgating, smoothies, and eating healthy,” says Ashley Rawl, vice president of sales, marketing and product development at the company. “These are available to be cross-branded with retailers as opportunities arise. We also offer retailers social media content such as posts, photography, quick hack videos and infographics.”

Adding Color To The Mix

For Moe Issa, it’s all about color. Issa is the owner of Brooklyn Fare, which has locations in Brooklyn and Manhattan. “I try to get bold and bright colors to the front and leave the rest to the side,” he says. “I like apples — the greens, the reds — I like to mix the color in there. When you walk into the store through produce, you want to have the colors front and center.”

“Even in the gray days of the winter, the sun never sets on the produce aisle,” says Manos at Babé Farms Specialties. This gives retailers even more incentive to make it shine inside the stores. Manos suggests retailers create illuminating produce displays “utilizing a bright array of winter root vegetables; red, gold and stripe beets, an assortment of colored carrots, turnips, kohlrabi and even specialty radishes. A winter crop of brilliantly colored cauliflower also makes for an eye-catching display.”

For retailer A&N House of Produce in Philadelphia, PA, produce display decisions are made daily. “Our store is broken down into 80 percent fixed location and 20 percent dynamic,” says store manager Dan Dvor. “That 20 percent dynamic is going to be filled with hot items or special items that are moving for that time of year.” This gives produce an opportunity to highlight specific items for special eating occasions. “Customers get tired as they go through the store,” says Dvor, “you have to give your ‘wow’ item at the beginning and at the end where the register is, because in the middle, from a customer perspective, it gets a little overwhelming.”

POS Tells The Story

Babe Farms VegetablesSun Pacific uses risers and other POS support materials when displaying Cuties Mandarins and Mighties kiwis. “We have seen a great deal of success, and retailers report dramatic sales increases with POS materials that help tell a story and/or visually enhance displays that shout ‘buy me’ to the consumer,” says DiPiazza. “These risers tell stories: sweet, juicy, easy to peel, and seedless on Cuties; ripe and ready to easily scoop and eat, and nutritionally dense on our Mighties kiwi; and the “Heirloom Story” and qualities of our Vintage Sweets Navel oranges.”

DiPiazza believes this type of merchandising combined with good-sized displays creates an impact on the consumer. When properly positioned, high-quality product is offered at a value and that is a combination that creates sales. Noritake at Zespri believes in the importance of educational POS information to show consumers how to choose, eat and store their fruit. She suggests print ads as a great tool for getting commodities, such as kiwifruit, to the attention of consumers.

“Demos are another important tool to educate consumers on the great taste, health benefits and easy ways to eat kiwifruit as an anytime, standalone snack with the simple cut, scoop and enjoy method. Most importantly is bringing kiwifruit forward in the produce department with more prominent merchandising and displays.”

Warming Comfort Foods

For shoppers in the northern part of the U.S., where winter temperatures routinely fall below zero, hearty dishes are what the mind and body crave. That means soups and stews are another great opportunity for retailers to move multiple varieties of winter commodities.

Soup kits are a great way to entice time-pressed home cooks, according to Goodman at Coosemans Worldwide. “If you’re in Minnesota, Wisconsin or Iowa, and it’s 10 degrees below zero, it’s really soup and stew season, because you’re not going to want to go out to the market every day,” he says. “You’re more likely to stay in and make a stew that you can eat for two or three days.”

Goodman sees retailers have success by pairing onions with other root vegetables and overwrapping them together in a tray or packaging them in a clamshell to promote as quick meal starters. “Merchandising soups and stews for the winter with a couple sprigs of rosemary and some sage is a good winter merchandising idea,” says Goodman. He also recommends giving potatoes extra attention during winter as well. “Potatoes are rib-sticking comfort food, and winter is meatloaf and mash potato season.”

Bowden of the Idaho Potato Commission has some recommendations for proper potato merchandising. “All potatoes should be merchandised together, not in separate areas of the store,” she says. “Once a consumer makes a selection on their potatoes, they most likely are done shopping for that product and will not look around for any additional offerings. Potatoes normally have their own table and this should be continued.”

As one of the most frequently purchased and largest volume items in the store, potatoes should be given proper space and focus. Bowden believes signage is extremely important as well, and the Idaho Potato Commission makes kits available to retail stores to display.

Megan Ichimoto, marketing supervisor for San Miguel Produce headquartered in Oxnard, CA, reminds retailers to add greens to the equation. She thinks retailers already do a good job conveying the health message of greens to their customers and the holidays are a good time to capitalize on awareness.

“The health benefits of dark leafy greens are the driving force behind the category,” says Ichimoto. “The holidays are the prime season for dark, leafy greens, and a big part of holiday family meals. Ensuring the shelves are stocked and available is key.”

WP Rawl ShoppingRawl believes cross-merchandising and cross-promotion strategies are effective ways for retailers to showcase the versatility of their products. “With produce, it is a little harder to do special displays since the items usually require refrigeration,” says Rawl, but there is a way. “For example: to show the versatility of kale to a shopper who does not frequently make smoothies, place a display next to the kale with fruit such as apples or pineapples with a recipe card to show the versatility of both commodities.”

Wilting greens can present issues for retailers, especially those located in areas where commodities travel from farther away during the winter months. While this is a challenge for retailers, it’s also an opportunity to set the bar high for the produce department. Goodman at Coosemans Worldwide explains, “January and February are the time to build for the whole year in produce, because if you have good-looking fresh produce then, you can lock them into that store for the rest of the year. That’s the challenge for retailers: making sure during the after-holiday season, their stuff looks fresh and crisp.”

Promoting Cold And Flu Fighters

Winter is also cold and flu season and consuming produce, especially citrus fruits, can be an effective weapon in fighting bugs and viruses. Fruits and vegetables from Central and South America keep commodities in the aisles for much longer than would have been allowed even a generation ago. When cold weather comes, this is appreciated for those suffering the winter blues and seasonal blahs.

The vitamin C found in kiwifruit will be a sight for itchy, watery eyes once winter is in full force, and product should be given prominent space. According to Zespri’s Noritake, “Kiwifruit has often been merchandised in the tropical section, but we have seen success bringing it to the front of the produce department by displaying it next to stone fruit in the summer and apples and pears in the winter. It’s also useful to have multiple displays within the department.”

Apples are also well represented during this time and for Tudor at Rainier Fruit, variety adds to appeal. “In the apple category, variety is really one of the most important characteristics that drive sales,” he says. “It is also about proper display allocation based on consumer demand.”

Tudor recommends retailers take the space taken up by varieties with sagging sales numbers and give it over to high-flavor apples. “There is no reason to put forth effort promoting varieties that continue to decline in both sales volume and category dollars. The addition of new high-flavor varieties within our ‘Rising Star’ category like Honeycrisp, Junami and Lady Alice allow consumers to have multiple choices and keep them coming back to the category generating new sales.”