While shorter supplies of cherries, peaches, nectarines and plums have led to flat or declining sales of stone fruits in recent years, these quintessential summertime favorites are poised for a comeback, with a little help from Mother Nature and some strategic online and in-store retail merchandising.
“Over the last couple of years, supply of stone fruit has been down,” says Steven Muro, president of Fusion Marketing, a Chatsworth, Calif.-based firm specializing in customized marketing and sales for fresh produce and perishable suppliers.
He cites 2017 crop disasters on the East Coast that destroyed approximately 80% of the peach crop alone. “Even last year, the weather-related incidents really hurt stone fruit crops throughout the country,” he says. That includes California, where extreme temperature fluctuations followed by fires affected supply.
Cherry sales also have remained flat in recent years, largely due to supply. In 2018, the cherry crop was down 25%, Muro says. “All of this impacted stone fruit sales at retail,” he says. “While uncertainty in crops caused a little chaos in the marketplace, we still see a bright future for stone fruits.”
Recent rains in California and improved weather in growing regions around the country should help to boost crop yields, while increasing consumer demand for seasonal fruits that are full of flavor and rich in vitamins and nutrients also spell continued shopper demand for stone fruits at retail.
Schnuck Markets Inc., based in St. Louis, knows how to draw in consumers with a stone fruit display. “Schnucks does a fantastic job,” Muro says. “When you walk into one of their stores in the summer, you walk right into a stone fruit display. They line up the stone fruit at the entrance in a way that promotes summertime favorites.
“We see these front door displays as a significant and continued method of driving stone fruit sales,” he continues. “The colors are vibrant and there’s a natural consumer attraction.”
When it comes to grocers with a strong online stone fruit presence, Muro points to San Antonio-based H-E-B and Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix Super Markets, both of which offer nutritional information, usage ideas, tips and recipes on its respective websites. “ H-E-B’s website features beautiful pictures of peaches, nectarines and plums that create appetite appeal,” says Muro.
In the summertime stone fruit section of its website, H-E-B also offers information on how to select, store and freeze peaches, as well as tips for grilling peaches and nectarines and serving them in a variety of recipes. “Cherries are great in marinades for meat and poultry dishes,” the website says.
H-E-B also features stone fruits in its Primo Picks flyer that highlights fresh produce and other products available in-store and online.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
How can grocers maximize merchandising to increase sales of stone fruits? Fusion Marketing recently conducted stone fruit testing to evaluate the importance of a number of variables, including adjacency (merchandising stone fruit next to different fruit, as well as next to other stone fruit) point of sale and display size. The research—which involved 35 test stores, as well as an additional 35 control stores around the country—revealed that when stone fruits were merchandised next to other fruits, such as melons, it increased sales of stone fruit in the test stores versus the control stores more than any other method.
Fusion’s research further discovered that point of sale was the second most-powerful way to increase sales of stone fruit, and the third was display size. Further research unearthed identified an opportunity to expand stone fruit consumption into other dayparts, specifically breakfast. “Stone fruit is predominantly viewed as a snack, afternoon or lunch item,” Muro says. But as peaches can be messy to eat on the go, cross-merchandising them with yogurt or cereal for the breakfast table represents untapped potential.”
The Cherry on Top
A summertime favorite, cherries are one stone fruit that needs no introduction. Consumers snap them up the moment this flavorful, snack-friendly fruit hits stores.
“The evolution of seasonality has really changed the stone fruit category,” says Brianna Shales, communications manager for Stemilt Growers in Wenatchee, Wash. “We also know that consumers are eating smaller meals and often snacking more than they are preparing a big meal. This is a great place for stone fruits, including cherries, to fit in.”
While cherry season is highly anticipated by shoppers, the fruit still needs prominent display space in the produce department, Shales says. “They are one of the largest dollar drivers to the produce department, despite only being in season for four months,” she says. “Cherries are also an impulse purchase, so promoting larger sizes and high brix (sugar) fruit for the best flavor experience is a must.”
Stemilt offers a variety of cherry programs, including Kyle’s Pick cherries in July, and A Half Mile Closer to the Moon cherries in August, to help retailers differentiate their cherry programs.
Organic Stone Fruit
“Plums have been a real shining light in stone fruit, with growth in both sales and volume,” Muro says. At Melissa’s Produce in Vernon, Calif., PR Director Robert Schueller is seeing growth in organic stone fruit across the board, and with organic plums in particular. “We are seeing more traction with Melissa’s organic stone fruit,” says Schueller. Melissa’s Organic Peaches experienced 10% growth from 2017 vs. 2018 (for the domestic season from May to September).
Photograph courtesy of Melissa's Produce
Also, Melissa’s Organic Nectarines (8%), Organic Plumcots (12%), and Organic Plum Bites (15%) all experienced growth for the same time period.
Avocados are another exception to the flat sales in stone fruits. One of the largest categories in fresh produce, avocados hit $2.3 billion in annual retail sales, according to the Hass Avocado Board, citing IRI/FreshLook data. “The avocado market is still in a growth mode and continues to climb,” Muro says. “It’s astonishing how the market continues to grow, and it’s not just a U.S. phenomenon. We see demand for avocados increasing worldwide.”
Photograph courtesy of California Avocado
“Whenever people get together, it is a great opportunity for avocado consumption,” says Jan DeLyser, VP of marketing for the California Avocado Commission (CAC) in Irvine, Calif. “Sales data shows that category volume peaks around major consumption events such as the big game, Cinco de Mayo and more.”
For California avocados, the CAC finds that American summer holidays are peak consumption events. “The California Avocado Commission has helped build these events through promotions focused around these holidays, including themed displays and point-of-sale material. We will continue these strategies this year with an emphasis on Memorial Day and Fourth of July,” says DeLyser, who points out that California avocados are expected to be in peak supply through July.
With high consumer demand for California avocados (and one of the smaller crops in recent years), retail promotions are focused on prominent displays featuring the California origin rather than price-driven promotions. To that end, the CAC is also extending its “Made of California”campaign with a variety of social media and digital assets, including new videos featuring California avocado growers. “We work with targeted retailers one-on-one to determine which assets work best for them,” DeLyser says. “Sometimes the retailers use our assets on their own social and digital channels, and sometimes we use geotargeting to deliver our ads at or near the customers’ stores.”
Sales-Driving Mango Displays
“Bins work,” says Angela Serna of the National Mango Board (NMB) in Orlando, Fla. “Our research shows that the use of in-store bins provide a significant lift to mango sales.” While U.S. mango consumption has been on the rise over the past decade, according to the NMB, mango sales in 2018 were flat at $339 million. Total mango sales in 2017 were $345 million.
This month, the NMB began its national bin program in time to boost sales around “Cinco de Mango.” The in-store displays offer retailers the opportunity to have secondary placement of mangoes in the store. Next month marks the NMB’s annual National Display contest. “We give our retail partners the opportunity to create mango displays utilizing NMB resources combined with their creativity,” Serna says.
The NMB partners with condiment company Tajin to offer incentives to participating retailers, as well as to provide cash prizes for the winners in each category. In addition to offering customized in-store programs that align with its retailer partners’ mango growth initiatives, the NMB also supports grocers through digital media.
“We have seen a significant increase in the use of our digital and promotional assets by our retail partners,” says Serna. “We see NMB assets used in the social media channels just about every week.”
As part of this initiative, the NMB provides a monthly mango blog to retail dietitian partners, which promotes a strong health and wellness message.
New Study Examines Avocado Shoppers
A new study published by the Hass Avocado Board (HAB) of Mission Viejo, Calif., reveals that while just more than half (51%) of U.S. households purchase avocados, shoppers of the fruit are not all the same.
The Avocado Shopper Insights: Regional Demographics and Purchase Trendsreport shows that avocado-purchasing households are a diverse group, varying by region and household demographics. Perhaps most surprising, the study (based on IRI Consumer Network data) found that the majority of avocado-purchasing households (64%) across the country do not have children.
Also, the study found that while avocado-purchasing households are found across eight U.S. geographic regions, the demographic makeup of these households varies by region, as do their avocado purchasing habits.
“These demographic and purchase insights help us see how the avocado shoppers in one part of the country differ from avocado shoppers in other parts of the country,” said Emiliano Escobedo, HAB executive director, in a press release. “This can help us spot and better understand growth opportunities in various regions and across various demographic groups.”
The study also looks at how avocado shoppers are purchasing the category in each region with regard to household penetration, buying rate, average number of trips per avocado-purchasing household and dollar spend per trip.
To learn more, visit hassavocadoboard.com/retail/market-basket-shopper-trends.
Perfect Merchandising Partner
A recent study from Fusion Marketing revealed that merchandising stone fruit adjacent to other fruits, such as melons, proved highly effective in increasing sales of peaches, cherries, nectarines and plums.
Later this month, the largest melon grower and supplier during the offshore season, Sol Group of Pompano Beach, Fla. (part of the Fyffes Group), will launch its first summer melon program. Sol’s summer program will include cantaloupes and honeydews, as well as the full line of Kiss melons, which includes Sugar Kiss, Summer Kiss, Honey Kiss and Golden Kiss. All melons offered in the Sol Group summer program are grown in Yuma, Ariz., and Southern California, and will be available starting in mid-May.
“Consumers are demanding options that are convenient, and melons continue to serve this on-the-go meal and snacking occasion need, as fresh cut melons in the form of chunks, sliced, cubed and spears continue to be one of the top-selling fresh-cut commodities year over year,” says Gina Garven, VP of commercial development and analytics for Robinson Fresh in Eden Prairie, Minn.
Fresh-cut melons are in the top five subcategories in both dollar (12.1%) and volume (11.2%) for prepared produce sales over the 52 weeks ending Feb. 24, 2019, according to IRI.
“Melons serve the need of the health-conscious consumer as they are typically low in calories, rich in vitamins and minerals (such as folate, vitamin K, magnesium and lycopene) and have a high water content as compared to other fruits,” Garven says. Further driving melon demand is the sports recovery attributes of certain varieties. “Melons, and especially watermelons, are a natural source of an amino acid called citrulline, which has been found to expand blood vessels and help with reducing muscle weakness.”
Do You Know Your Stones?