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    Driving Sales of Summer Produce

    Grilling season offers opportunities for retailers

    By Jennifer Strailey

    Powerful promotions and creatively executed displays drive sales of summer produce at grocery chains like Rouses Supermarkets. 

    “We call it ‘theater,’” says Kerry Adams, produce buyer for the Thibodaux, La.-based retailer. “So much of summer produce sales are impulse purchases. We need to do everything we can to call attention to produce and bring the consumer over to the display.”

    Rouses has found that its most successful promotions in fresh produce are those that include a contest for produce managers. “Display contests drive more excitement in the category and create buzz,” asserts Adams. “Our produce managers are highly competitive, so we like to stir the pot and make it fun.”

    The grocery chain, which has more than 40 stores in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, runs regular display contests, particularly when there’s a change in seasons. Summer means stone fruit and grilling promotions. 

    Cross-promotion is key to Rouses’ summer grilling displays. “What can you do to get a produce item into a buggy that wasn’t on the shopping list?” Adams asks. “That’s what it’s all about.”

    Rouses awards display contest prizes to the produce manager with the highest percentage of sales increase relative to store sales. This affords produce managers at smaller stores an equal opportunity to win. Creativity is also honored. Produce managers submit photos of their displays, and Rouses’ farmer and grower partners vote on the most creative execution.

    This summer, Rouses’ produce managers will compete in a cherry display contest. “We bring growers into the store as well,” says Adams. “Customers want to make that connection with the farm.”

    Brianna Shales, communications manager for Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers, agrees. Later this month, Stemilt will introduce 5 River Islands, a new brand of late-season premium-quality cherries from the California Delta region. Only the highest-quality and largest cherries from the region will be packed under the brand.

    Where the fruit originates “is something that consumers want to know, and we’ve found it really resonates with shoppers through the success of our A Half Mile Closer to the Moon cherry program and Kyle’s Pick product line,” she affirms. 

    When it comes to cherry merchandising, it’s important to maximize sales during key promotional windows, advises Shales. “Cherries are an impulse purchase — they rarely appear on someone’s shopping list — so they must be displayed in a high-traffic area in order to capture sales.” 

    Grate Expectations

    According to the 2016 Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA) “Barbecue Lifestyle, Usage and Attitude Study,” 45 percent of U.S. adults plan to purchase a new grill or smoker in 2017, 75 percent already own a grill, and 30 percent plan to do more grilling this year.

    With enthusiasm for grilling at an all-time high, and fresh produce a natural tie-in to summer barbecues, MountainKing Potatoes, based in Houston, is preparing to reprise its highly successful Get Grilling campaign again this year. 

    “We build on it each year,” says John Pope, VP of sales and marketing. For 2017, MountainKing will reward produce managers who implement the best displays incorporating Weber grills.

    MountainKing has created a variety of colorful point-of-sale materials, from potato bins designed to look like a gas grill to bag tags that promote preheating potatoes in the microwave before finishing them on the grill. “We coined the term ‘8-minute grilling,’” notes Pope, who says that the combination of microwave and grill preparation makes for deliciously textured potatoes.

    Grocers can use the grill bins to cross-merchandise potatoes with peppers, onion, corn, mushrooms and more.

    “The campaign is about building excitement around potatoes in the warmer months,” explains Pope, who adds that one-third of all meals at home include fresh potatoes of some sort. “We’ve also had a lot of buy-in from protein departments that cross-promote meat, poultry and seafood with different potato varieties.” 

    Get Grilling has grown each year, with grocers increasingly ordering more product and POS. “What really drives grocery store profit are events,” enthuses Pope. “Grilling is a huge deal, and grilled potatoes are such a magnet for other items.”

    Berry Bonanza

    Few things capture the sweetness of summer like berries. Driven by a steady stream of positive press trumpeting the health benefits of the fruit, berry sales remain strong. 

    “Most everything is driven by social media these days, and berries are no different,” says Jim Grabowski, director of marketing for Well-Pict, in Watsonville, Calif. “There are countless sources touting the health benefits of berries. It’s driving berry sales, particularly with younger consumers.”

    To keep berries top of mind in summer, when stone fruits and melons are at the peak of season, Grabowski recommends merchandising displays that employ a “berry patch concept.”

    “Create a one-stop shop by merchandising strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries all together,” he advises. Recipes for desserts, snacks and salads made with berries can also be useful sales tools.

    “Successful retailers are using large displays that feature a full assortment of sizes and berry varieties,” notes Grabowski, who has also seen an uptick in sales of value-added, convenient berry items.

    The Mushroom Boom

    The Mushroom Council, in San Jose, Calif., is once again teaming with the James Beard Foundation on the Blended Burger Project, which encourages restaurants and retailers to blend mushrooms into unique burgers and feature them on their menus between Memorial Day and July 31.

    More than 2 million consumers voted in last year’s Blended Burger Project, according to the Mushroom Council’s Kathleen Preis. In retail sales, total mushroom sales dollars increased by 3.7 percent for the 13-week promotion period.

    While a small number of retailers participated in last year’s campaign, the council is looking forward to greater participation in 2017 as retailers become more familiar with the Blend

    “We are seeing more and more innovative grocerant concepts at stores around the country, where the Blend and an association with a James Beard Foundation campaign can help upscale their menus while offering delicious and sustainable burgers to their customers,” explains Preis.

    To inspire food professionals and consumers to blend mushrooms into their dishes, the council has launched a new Blenditarian consumer website.

    Meanwhile, click here for ideas on merchandising proteins for summer grilling.

    Tomatoes

    NatureSweet, of San Antonio, Texas, is partnering with Palatine, Ill.-based Weber to give shoppers a chance to win a Weber grill in the Sweeten Your Grill sweepstakes. Past grilling partnerships between the two companies have resonated with both consumers and retailers alike, according to NatureSweet’s Lori Castillo. 

    For this year’s sweepstakes, consumers are invited to take a photo of how they grill with NatureSweet Glorys and Jubilees, and then upload the photo to Instagram and tag it with #NatureSweetWEBER #sweepstakes for a chance to win.

    NatureSweet will randomly select prize winners from photos posted between May 22 and July 8.

    “Digital, social media and email blasts are key components to support sales, along with in-store marketing efforts such as in-store display and POS,” explains Castillo of the program.

    Vidalia Onions

    “This year, we know that numerous retailers will be featuring Bland Farms’ Vidalia onion in their grilling section,” says Alannah Finnan, marketing specialist for Glennville, Ga.-based Bland Farms, which recommends cross-promotions to boost sales of the sweet onion variety.

    “Creating cross-promotions involving other produce items, or even meats, allows retailers the opportunity to push Vidalia onions in different recipes, for instance, vegetable kabobs or steak/chicken fajitas,” adds Finnan.

    Vidalia Brands, a division of Bland Farms, has launched two new product lines: Vidalia O’s, a frozen, beer-battered sweet-onion ring, and Vidalia Brands’ Dressings, offered in both shelf-stable and refrigerated versions.

    To celebrate the uniqueness of this special sweet onion, the Vidalia Onion Committee, in Vidalia, Ga., recently launched a new marketing campaign, Only Vidalia.

    “The campaign highlights the provenance of the Vidalia onion that has been handcrafted by grower artisans for more than 80 years in Georgia,” notes Executive Director Susan Waters. “The Only Vidalia campaign features advertising aimed at consumers and grocery retailers, social media content and blogger partnerships — all inviting people to rediscover the original sweet onion.”

    Peppers

    J&J Family of Farms, in Loxahatchee, Fla., is fired up about the sales potential of its signature field-grown colored peppers and mini peppers in summer grilling promotions.

    “At J&J Family of Farms, we are always looking for ways to drive vegetable consumption and grow our categories, especially the pepper category,” notes Brian Rayfield, VP of business development. “Our colored bell peppers are the staple item when it comes to recipes that consumers need for grilling. What’s a shish kabob without the bell peppers?”

    This summer, the only trend as hot as grilling is local, and J&J believes that sharing the origin of fresh produce items is critical to connecting with consumers. 

    “As a grower that serves customers on a national level, we love to educate [people] about our Southeastern influence and keep building a conversation around local,” Rayfield affirms. “The deliverable on this messaging is, of course, freshness. Freshness is key to having a win/win/win experience for the grower, retailer and, ultimately, the consumer.”  

    Produce Innovation at United Fresh 2017

    United Fresh 2017 will welcome retailers, wholesalers, foodservice companies and buyers to the West Hall at Chicago’s McCormick Place, June 13-15. Innovation is the theme of this year’s event, which promises to showcase the most creative new produce items and fresh food trends, cutting-edge tools and technology, business-to-business opportunities, industry-leading education sessions, and more. 

    According to the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association, the fastest-growing segment of the event is the United FreshMKT Expo, where attendees can explore the latest in fresh produce innovation, with a new focus on prepared meal solutions, convenient snack items, and fresh juices, salsas, soups and dips.

    The new Organic Showcase will feature new products and a highlighted presence for organic providers, while the FreshMKT Learning Center will offer educational presentations on the show floor, giving attendees an opportunity to hear from experts on a variety of topics, including organics, retail merchandising and women in produce.

    Attendees in search of additional inspiration can peruse innovative products from a host of leading companies, and vote for their favorites. The winners will be revealed at the United Fresh Innovation Awards.

    By Jennifer Strailey
    • About Jennifer Strailey Progressive Grocer's contributing editor covering the produce industry, Jennifer Strailey has been writing about food and beverages for business-to-business publications for more than 15 years. She has been writing for PG since 2010.

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