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There are two main drivers in unique specialty produce right now, notes John Toner, VP, conventions and industry relations for the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association: The ethnic shopper and chefs.
With this in mind, the tropical produce suppliers at Coral Gables, Fla.-based Turbana Corp. have expanded the company's Tropicals line to include seven new items: Groovy Coconut, Aji Cachucha, Avocado, Ginger, Habanero Pepper, Malanga Amarilla and Sour Orange. The new introductions join Turbana’s existing 12 items in the Tropicals line (Also see What’s Next on pages 174-5 of the June 2014 issue of PG).
The program, which launched in 2013, was designed to give retailers the tools and product knowledge to capture the coveted ethnic consumer. "As the fastest-growing segment in the U.S., ethnic consumers shop two to three times per week, spend more dollars per visit than the average consumer and have diets that heavily depend on high-quality tropicals," notes Marion Tabard, Turbana's marketing director.
Turbana's Tropicals program provides retailers with information on everything from which segments of ethnic consumers live within a store's market area to demand projections for certain tropicals during ethnic holidays. The program also provides advice on how to select, store and display tropicals throughout the year.
For supermarkets to achieve success in this specialty category, they must tailor their messaging to both the mainstream and the ethnic consumer, asserts Tabard. "For the mainstream audience, education is key" in such areas as showcasing ripeness instructions and storage tips, and inspirational food samplings and recipes. For the target ethnic groups, meanwhile, Tabard advises retailers to label tropicals with usage signage in native languages, as well as in English.
Social Media Mania
Social media has revolutionized the way that companies build their brands, as well as the way that consumers think about food. Scores of shoppers now regularly use social media to share what they eat and where they eat it.
Royal Rose Radicchio, in Salinas, Calif., recently launched a social media-based scavenger hunt. Whenever consumers cross paths with radicchio or another chicory (on restaurant menus, at retail markets, etc.), they can snap a picture and post the photo evidence using the hashtag #chicorychase on any social media platform.
"The #chicorychase contest will be ongoing," says Royal Rose spokeswoman Erin Fogg. "Our goal is to spark conversation and fun around radicchio and its superfood status, so ideally, we'll grow the chase over time. We have visions of adding more fun schwag and side competition as the buzz grows."
Each week, a winner will be selected for his or her creativity, cunning detective skills and outstanding expertise at hunting down chicory. The prize is a "My Superfood is Hot" shirt from Royal Rose.
Create a Fresh Destination
What's the best way to determine if your produce department is a true destination for the freshest branded, local, organic and specialty produce available?
"We would suggest that the produce manager walk the store with his consumer hat on to see where improvements could be made," advises Samantha Cohen, junior partner at Retail Concepts, a Norwell, Mass.-based boutique retail consulting firm focused on helping retail entrepreneurs build successful businesses.
"Every store needs to be built and operated with its target customer in mind," she continues. "Think about what the produce customer knows, and what information they are being provided with. Are there signs? Are there labels? Are these signs/labels legible and branded? Or are there too many signs, so you don’t know where to look first? There needs to be a natural balance between informative and approachable."
Freshness is also key, and part of successfully conveying that the grocer's maintaining a clean store. "Nothing feels fresh if the area is cluttered, unorganized and stale," notes Cohen. "Things that are fresh evoke feelings of cleanliness and crispness, both of which your produce section should do. Keep produce stacked neatly. Keep merchandising techniques consistent throughout the space so the area reads as cohesive." The staff working in produce should also appear clean and organized.
Signage is another effective tool to convey freshness. "Think about signing products and labeling them as to when they arrived in the store," advises Cohen, who likens the practice to coffee shops that label the brew times on their coffee pots. Tell the story of where the produce came from to make the connection back to the farm.
Merchandising Dos and Don'ts
With clients ranging from food stores and restaurants to clothing chains and toyshops, Retail Concepts has seen what works and what doesn't with regard to merchandising and display. Here are their top dos and don'ts:
- Have too many options. In retail, the ideal number of choices is usually three, says Cohen. It gives people more than the either/or decision without overwhelming them with too many choices. Too many choices are actually a sales deterrent. By offering a couple of great choices, the retailer is also seen as the expert.
- Leave too little space. Customers need room to navigate any given area of the store. Can shoppers with carts easily navigate the displays? Even the areas without product are selling spaces. They're just selling something less tangible: customer experience.
- Use no signage. While Retail Concepts doesn't advocate signing every item, there should be a balance, says Cohen. In the produce section, people want to know what it is and how much it costs. For certain produce items, they want ideas on how to prepare it. Signage should be consistent and well branded. Consider using a template for your signage.
- Make the display look too much like a display. A gorgeous display of fresh produce is always enticing, but just make sure it isn't a work of art that customers are afraid to touch. Displays should be approachable, easy for customers to navigate and easy for the produce staff to restock.
- Look at what's positioned where, and next to what. Merchants should be thinking about customer flow and seeing what products are purchased together. This can help dictate a merchandising strategy.
- Offer double exposure. For example, bananas naturally live in the produce section, but they're often paired with cereal for breakfast. Could there be a small banana display in the cereal aisle for those people who may not want to walk all the way back to the produce aisle?
- Allow room to pick and choose. Is there sufficient space for your customer to stand and pick through the cherries and green beans, or will this create a logjam if she does? You don't want a customer to feel rushed if she's holding up fellow shoppers.
- Identify the dead zones. Are there certain "dead zones" in the produce section where, for whatever reason, the turn isn't as quick? Consider merchandising goods that complement the produce section (croutons, salad dressings, pre-packaged nuts, etc.) in those areas.
- Talk to customers. Walk the floor and engage customers in conversation about what they want and what they like. It's the best way to determine product mix, says Cohen.
- Be fresh. Many stores sell the idea of freshness, but don't offer the freshest products. If you're going to market yourself as a fresh produce hub, stand by your word.