Most supermarkets offer both items year-round, but many see an uptick in sales during the summer, as shoppers take them home to make a cool citrus drink, add a refreshing tang to iced tea or complement the flavor of grilled fish.
If the price is right — like 3 for 99 cents — Apple Valley Market in Berrien Springs, Mich., can pump out 30 cases of 75-count lemons a week, says Stephen Milanowski, produce manager. Regular price is 49 cents.
In late May, Milanowski already was setting up large end cap displays of lemons twice a month, and he plans to continue that practice throughout the summer.
He features lemons on ad as much as possible — at least twice a month — and sees a 50% sales increase during summer.
His display is 6 feet wide by 4 feet deep and includes overflow boxes of the fruit.
Milanowski used to offer 2-pound bags, but he says he cut that out “because of quality issues.”
“It’s easier just to go with the bulk,” he says.
Shoppers at Palmer’s Supermarket Inc., Darien, Conn., prefer “decent-sized” lemons, like 95 count, says Mike Manginelli, produce manager. He’s tried putting out 75s and 115s, but 95s always generate the most sales.
He goes through almost two cases a day and merchandises them on top of the grapefruit display.
Sales are steady year-round, he says, with maybe a little increase in summer, when his customers cook a lot of fish.
He doesn’t feature lemons on ad very often, but he says, “They sell great anyway.”
Occasionally, he puts bagged product on sale, but his customers prefer loose lemons.
Many of Palmer’s shoppers like to make their own lemonade.
“They’re big health fanatics,” he says.
Regular price for lemons at Palmer’s is 69 cents apiece — 20 or 30 cents less if they’re on ad.
Summer parties with cool drinks and grilled fish prompt patrons of the five Highland Park, Ill.-based Sunset Foods Inc. stores to latch onto lemons, says produce director Vince Mastromauro.
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The stores maintain the same sized display year-round, where Mastromauro merchandises 75- and 140-count lemons.
He displays lemons along with 36-count limes on a produce table.
He uses about a foot-wide display of limes near the tomatoes as a color break and ties them in with avocados for guacamole.
He also replenishes a basketful of lemons on the fish counter two or three items a day.
The stores feature lemons and limes on ad together five or six times a year.
A look at limes
At Apple Valley Market, Milanowski says he sells about nine cases a week of size 35 limes.
“It’s not that big of an item,” he says, at least compared to lemons.
Many shoppers in that region buy limes and juice them, like they do many fruits and vegetables.
The store features limes on ad about once every two months at 3 for 99 cents, like lemons. Regular price is 49 cents apiece.
Milanowski maintains a 2- by 2-foot display of limes —enough to draw attention to them without risking much shrink.
At Palmer’s Supermarket, Manginelli displays limes in wicker bushel baskets — in keeping with the store’s country theme — on one side of a citrus display, above the mandarins.
“They’re up on top where everyone can see them,” he says.
The store also might put a basket of limes next to the Corona beer, but Manginelli doesn’t display alcoholic beverages in the produce department.
Sale price is 2 for 75 cents or 3 for $1, compared to a regular price of 59 cents each.
He also keeps a case of key limes on hand, which he says also sell fairly well.
“We merchandise lemon and limes in the citrus category, with our salsa/Hispanic display,” says Chris Petroulakis, regional produce coordinator for Whole Foods Market in Tucson, Ariz.
Petroulakis cross-merchandises lemons by the seafood and limes by the beer.
The store offers bagged local lemons from December through March and also features bagged key limes and limes.
Don’t overlook the organic category.
San Francisco-based Pacific Organic Produce/Purity Organic packs organic lemons almost year-round, says John Stair, domestic commodity manager.
Unfortunately, during the summer when demand is strong, supplies are tight and f.o.b. prices are at their highest, he says, and it’s tough to promote organic lemons.
Stair says he sees a steady increase in sales of organic lemons as more retailers make lemons part of their organic programs.
“Lemons are a cornerstone of the organic citrus deal in the U.S.,” he says.
Mastromauro says Sunset Foods sells two or three cases of organic lemons and limes per store per week.
And Petroulakis says, “Organic lemons and limes sell the best” at Whole Foods.
Secondary displays work
Secondary displays are a great way to garner incremental lemon sales, says Julie DeWolf, director of retail marketing for Sunkist Growers Inc., Sherman Oaks, Calif.
Sunkist offers corrugate display units that she says are ideal in such locations as the seafood department, the liquor section and/or beer aisle and even in the water and tea sections. Sunkist also has a new header card that encourages the display of lemons with bottled water, titled “Lemons and Water: The Ultimate Diet Drink.”
“We also have our ‘S’Alternative’ header card that suggests consumers use lemons as a flavor enhancer and substitute to salt,” she adds.
Most retailers prefer larger fruit for bulk displays and smaller fruit in bags, says Paul D’Albora, program manager of Mexican lemons for DNE World Fruit Sales, Fort Pierce, Fla.
He says that for the most part, lemons are not a seasonal item; they’re a commodity whose sales don’t seem to benefit from a price cut.
Shoppers tend to pick up a few each week for cooking or to flavor drinks, he says. If the price is cut, they may buy more one week, but fewer the next.
It’s better to try to gain incremental sales by cross-merchandising them or offering them with fish or in other departments, he says.