Produce remains a crucial driver of store sales, but as the health-minded market matures, promotions that create excitement while showcasing the versatility and nutritional benefits of fresh fruits and vegetables are key to continued department growth. “Americans are increasingly concerned with and focused on health and wellness, which positions fresh produce for sustained success; yet, while sales are still growing, it was at a slower pace than in recent years,” says Matt Lally of Nielsen Fresh, which, along with United Fresh, recently released the United Fresh Facts Year in Review.
“As all areas of the store are evolving to meet the growing demand for health and wellness, produce needs to ensure that it continues to tout more than just ‘produce is healthy,’ but also communicate what specific benefits it provides and how that may be different from other areas of the store,” he says. With its bounty of seasonal and local offerings, summer is the ideal time to turn up the heat on demos, in-store promotions and digital campaigns designed to increase produce consumption. With this in mind, retailers, suppliers and industry organizations are poised to launch strategic summertime programs that are destined to drive sales.
Dietitians in the House
Boise-based Albertsons Cos., which operates more than 2,300 stores across 35 states and the District of Columbia under banners including Albertsons, Safeway, Jewel-Osco, Shaw’s and Acme, is creating excitement for a variety of fresh produce this summer and year-round with its recently launched dietitian-led demo program in 10 stores, primarily in the West. Leading the charge is Wellness Services Corporate Dietitian Elaine Magee. “We’re taking demos to a higher level in our stores,” says Magee, who is also a recipe developer, blogger and author of 25 books on health and nutrition.
Albertsons Cos., which piloted the program in five Albertsons, Safeway and Acme stores late last year, partners with a different supplier each month. Magee then develops recipes, demos, informational handouts and a blog around the partnership. Almost half of the participating companies are in produce. The demo program kicked off with a monthlong focus on mushrooms in collaboration with the Mushroom Council. “They’re amazing partners,” says Magee of the San Jose, Calif.-based council, which works with retailers and foodservice to promote The Blend, an initiative that recommends replacing half a serving of meat with chopped mushrooms in an endless array of dishes.
Albertsons Cos.’ in-store and contract dietitians wore “Your Supermarket Dietitian” aprons as they demoed healthful and innovative dishes, such as Mini Umami Burgers with patties made from half grass-fed lean ground beef and half chopped mushrooms. Served on organic living butter lettuce, the Umami Burgers were demoed three times in each participating store during the month-long promotion. “I’ve never seen so many people at a demo,” says Magee. “People came over because they smelled it cooking and could hear the excitement of other shoppers. Kids loved it, too—it blew their minds that it was made with half mushrooms.”
Magee supported the promotion with a blog featuring nutritional information on mushrooms and additional recipes for everything from Portobello Bacon to Sloppy Janes. Albertsons Cos. will repeat the successful demo campaign with the Mushroom Council again this month, expanding The Blend message through a focus on summer recipes and grilling.
Replace Protein with Produce
While the United Fresh Facts on Retail 2017 Year in Review reports relatively flat mushroom sales last spring, it also notes that as consumers increasingly look for healthier alternatives, “continuing to promote and advocate The Blend could generate growth.”
“Retailers are benefiting by offering new ‘healthy-for-you’ value-added products from the foodservice, deli and meat departments,” says Eric Davis of the Mushroom Council, pointing to the success of the Albertsons Cos. dietitian-led demo program. “The use of mushrooms as part of value-added meat products may improve the overall sustainability [of the category], and has a potential cost savings by replacing a portion of proteins with mushrooms,” he says. “The stores’ ROI may be improved with savings dropped to the bottom line.”
When Avocados from Mexico sponsored demos in February, Albertsons Cos. dietitians prepared and sampled poke bowls with avocados. And in March, Albertsons Cos. partnered with the Los Angeles-based Giumarra and the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association to demo Chilean Mystic Treat grapes. “With each demo sponsor, we try to create a unique experience,” says Magee, who demoed Mystic Treat grapes in three ways: with a chunk of white cheddar, on a whole-grain pita crisp with a dollop of goat cheese, and with half a grape on organic celery with natural peanut butter.
In July, Albertsons Cos. will partner with the California Avocado Commission (CAC). “I’m developing the recipes now, but I’m thinking of pairing California avocados with strawberries topped with a balsamic glaze,” says Magee. Often, the program also has a social media or digital component. Facebook Live links to the themed blogs and recipes. “Our dietitian demo program is very strategic,” says Magee, adding that sponsors receive performance data for the month, as well as year-over-year sales.
“We’re engaging customers in a unique way around produce and creating a different shopping experience each month,” says Magee. She hopes to grow the program to 20 stores in 2019, as well as the number of Albertson Cos.’ team of in-store registered dietitians.
School’s Out—Produce Is In
This summer, Produce for Kids in Orlando, Fla., is launching a slew of high-energy, attention-grabbing promotions at Meijer, AWG Springfield, Harps and Price Chopper stores. “At Meijer stores, Produce for Kids is kicking off summer on May 30 by offering shoppers recipes featuring in-season produce items from supplier partners,” says Trish James, VP of Produce for Kids. “Several in-store shows with the rock-and-roll nutrition show ‘Jump with Jill’will encourage families to try to fruits and veggies while rocking along with the ‘Jump with Jill’ crew.”
AWG Springfield, Harps and other retailers are featuring a “Turnip the Beet” standee in stores that encourages families to snap a photo and post to social media using the hashtag #produceforkids. They are then automatically entered to win a grocery gift card. Price Chopper will be engaging kids and their families at several Produce for Kids community events planned with Jodie Fitz, who heads up the retailer’s Kids Cooking Club. All Produce for Kids retail partners have dedicated microsites that link to ProduceforKids.com, where shoppers can find event information, recipes, giveaways and more at their local grocer.
California avocados will make a splash in San Diego this June, with the launch of Cado, a pop-up experience celebrating the avocado “Through immersive art installations, food tastings and other sensory elements, visitors will have a chance to learn about California avocados—how they are grown, nutritional benefits, ripening, etc.—and also be inspired to share via social media,” says Jan DeLyser, VP of marketing for the Irvine, Calif.-based CAC, the pop-up’s title sponsor.
Built from shipping containers, the 6,700-square-foot mobile pop-up experience is expected to draw more than 500 visitors a day for three months. “Retailers in the area will benefit from the education and excitement the pop-up generates,” says DeLyser.
The California avocado crop for this fiscal year (November 2017-October 2018) is estimated at 374.6 million pounds, with peak volume available now through Labor Day. “The period of the American summer holidays including Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day coincides with peak availability of California avocados and provides excellent opportunities for retailers to tie into those events with merchandising that highlights the origin of the fruit,” DeLyser says.
California avocados will also be featured during Albertsons Cos.’ CAC-sponsored dietitian-led demos in July. “The California Avocado Commission continues to work with supermarket dietitians at participating retailers to disseminate the great nutrition story about avocados,” says DeLyser. The CAC has also created an American Heart Association-certified recipe booklet that serves as a useful tool for supermarket dietitian programs and retail displays.
To make the most of California avocado season, a well-stocked and ripe supply is critical to success. Additionally, DeLyser finds that bagged avocado programs represent a growth area for the category.
According to the United Fresh Facts Year in Review, sales of organic produce reached $4.9 billion in 2017, up 7.3% from the previous year. And while organic vegetables represent the lion’s share of organic produce sales, Nielsen Fresh finds that organic fruits are on the rise. “Organic produce has sustained near double-digit growth for years now,” says Lally. “As it continues to grow in size, it will be harder to maintain those same growth rates; however, some categories are still very underdeveloped in organic sales and represent untapped opportunity.”
As fruit sales typically surge in the summer, highlighting organic fruit at this time of year may result in an uptick in sales. “Q3 is extremely reliant on fruit sales, with more than 56% of volume coming from fruit,” says Lally. “While households can now purchase almost any produce year-round, the lower prices of in-season fruit generally push the increased consumption compared to other times of the year. As more outlets carry organic produce, and at affordable prices, this could also play a role in the continued growth of these items.”
Rainier Fruit of Selah, Wash., is hoping to boost sales of its expanding organic fruit program through a new partnership with Wanderlust, the world’s largest producer of yoga lifestyle events. A producer of organic and conventional apples, pears, cherries and blueberries, Rainier Fruit will be the presenting healthy lunch sponsor at 24 Wanderlust 108 yoga events in the U.S. and Canada and include on-site activation in multiple markets. The supplier will also work with in-market retailers to establish ad promotions and communication tools to help the more than 2,000 attendees at each event find Rainier fruit in their local stores.
Nuts for Summer
The Wonderful Co. of Los Angeles is helping retailers to increase product visibility and drive pistachio sales this spring and summer with wood-grain and summer-themed display bins for Wonderful Pistachios. “With our cart-stopping display bins, which include wood-grain bins for the new Natural Raw and summer-themed bins for July Fourth and picnics, our retail partners sell three times the velocity of pistachios,” says Adam Cooper, VP of marketing for Wonderful Pistachios.
Cooper further reports that Wonderful Pistachios Natural Raw is off to a strong start. “Wonderful Pistachios’ portfolio grew 24 % overall during the first few months in store, when the wood-grain Natural Raw bins were added, which is incremental for the pistachio category,” he says.
Beginning this spring, Wonderful Pistachios—which also recently unveiled a packaging refresh to its No Shells variety—is supporting the product’s relaunch with its first-ever multimillion-dollar integrated marketing campaign. The new creative campaign will include trade and consumer print and online advertising, public relations, social media support and a large-scale digital advertisement in Times Square.
Summer offers a variety of mangos from Honeys to Kents to Tommy Atkins, as well as ample promotional and merchandising opportunities. According to research from the National Mango Board (NMB) in Orlando, Fla., when displayed with seasonal stone fruit, mangos have a 45% lift in sales. “Think of mango as the ultimate stone fruit,” says Angela Serna of the NMB. No longer perceived as exotic, mangos are now mainstream within the produce section, says Serna. In fact, mangos are No. 15 in overall volume within the produce section. What’s more, fresh cut mangos are on the move: In 2017, fresh-cut mangos grew 12% year over year.
The NMB—which recently introduced new brand messaging and a new look for mangos as the Super Fun Superfruit—is launching its annual bin program this month, just in time for summer. “The bin program has always been a key resource for our retail partners to promote mangos,” says Serna. “We know that the use of bins in-store provides a more permanent location for mangos, so it’s easier for the consumer to consistently find the mangos they love.”
This July, the NMB will sponsor its annual display contest that challenges retailers to create in-store displays featuring the versatility and flavor of mangos. The NMB provides an incentive for participation, and retailers with the most creative displays are eligible to win cash prizes.
Where’s the Mushroom?
This summer, the Mushroom Council and the Beef Checkoff in Centennial, Colo., will once again partner on a retail promotion for blending veal with mushrooms.
“Summer is peak burger, grilling and party season, and a great time for retailers to promote blended burgers,” says Davis of the Mushroom Council. “Retailers can offer in-store blended burger demos, share blended burger recipes, launch blend activations at point of sale, sell fresh blended burgers in the meat department, and/or share blended burger content on social media platforms like Facebook Live on The Blend.”
This year’s promotion will have an active consumer component through the Mushroom Council’s consumer blog posts, e-blasts to the Mushroom Lover’s List, and postings to loyal Pinterest board followers, Instagram videos, Facebook and YouTube cooking demonstrations.
The Mushroom Council offers a variety of resources to help promote The Blend at retail. Learn more at www.mushroomsatretail.com/retail-promotion-programs/.