Spring into strawberry season - The Packer

Spring into strawberry season

03/01/2013 04:03:00 PM
Tom Burfield

Springtime is synonymous with strawberries, and suppliers are urging retailers to use the spring holidays — such as Easter and Mother’s Day — as a launching point for the season ahead.

“Rather than focusing strictly on promoting for the Easter holiday, we are encouraging our partners to look at that as a beginning for the spring season and to build that large display in the front of the department and keep it there as a destination throughout the peak season,” says Cindy Jewell, director of marketing for California Giant Inc., Watsonville, Calif.

That holds especially true this year, she says, with Easter falling so early — March 31.

Strawberries already are an important promotion item at many supermarkets.


Baked goods

Two or three times a year, the produce department at Weber’s IGA in Sedona, Ariz., couples up with the bakery department to cross-promote strawberries and bakery items, says store director Dave Miller.

click image to zoomspring produce retailer strawberriesPamela RiemenschneiderSpringtime is the perfect time to promote strawberries in your store. The bakery features tarts, cakes and parfaits made with fresh strawberries from the store’s produce section and puts up signs encouraging shoppers to pick up their own strawberries by visiting the produce aisle.

Meanwhile, the produce department lets shoppers know about the fresh strawberry treats available in the bakery.

“We try to hit them from two different sides,” Miller says.

In general, strawberry sales at the store depend on price, he says, which varies with the weather and other conditions that affect availability.

During the winter or when sales are slow, 1-pound clamshell containers of strawberries sell for $2.99 to $3.49 and are limited to three rows on a table to preserve freshness.

During the peak season, the display expands to both sides and an end of a 6-foot island, and strawberries are priced at as little as 89 cents per pound.

The store cross-merchandises strawberries with glaze, toppings and dessert cups.

“Dessert cups are a must,” Miller says. Besides the standard yellow cake cups, he also offers a devil’s food version.

Weber’s IGA also merchandises aerosol cans of whipped cream with its berry display, along with packaged powder mix and accompanying recipe ideas.


Early ad

Piggly Wiggly Midwest, a chain of about 100 stores based in Sheboygan, Wis., had Florida strawberries on ad in late January, says Dan Dippel, produce director.

The stores increase their display size from about 4 feet to double that when strawberries are on sale for as little as 99 cents to $1.49 per 1-pound clamshell. Regular price ranges from $2.99 to $3.99, depending on time of year and availability.

Dippel sources strawberries from Florida, California or Mexico, depending on where he can get the best value at the time, he says.

He features strawberries on ad every couple of weeks during the summer and uses POP, such as signs and danglers, when it’s available.

Valentine’s Day and Easter are the biggest strawberry holidays, he says.


Value proposition

Albert E. Lees Inc., Westport, Mass., makes strawberries a value proposition for shoppers whenever possible, says Matt Cummings, produce manager.

The store typically runs strawberries on ad every four to six weeks during the winter and every two or three weeks during the summer. Sometimes Cummings features them as an in-store special on weekly basis.

“If the crop is abundant and the prices are really reasonable, we’ll run them as long as we can get them at a good price,” he says.

In late January, the store was advertising Florida strawberries at two 1-pound clamshells for $5.

The highest price you’ll find on strawberries at Albert E. Lees is $5.99 a pound.

“We try not to go over that,” Cummings says. “If we take hit, we take a hit.”


Peak promotions

During the peak season, Weber’s IGA features strawberries on ad about every other week, Miller says.

The 1-pounder is the most popular package, but the store offers 2-pound clamshells when they’re available. How well the 2-pound size sells depends on price point.

“Price point drives the market,” Miller says.

Some retailers have sold loose strawberries by the pound, Miller says, but that is not something he has tried.

There also was time, he says, when stores had an entry-level employee assigned to reworking the 1-pint containers that came in 12-pint flats containing 14 pints worth of berries. But those days are long gone.

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“We’ve gone to what the consumers prefer,” he says, which is mostly the 1-pound clamshell container.

The store uses point-of-purchase materials when they’re available, often indicating the origin of the berries, brand name or pointing consumers to recipes.

Miller says he hasn’t put much emphasis on the health benefits of strawberries.

“We probably haven’t done as much as we need to on that,” he says.

Consumers tend to buy berries because “they’re a treat” rather than because of their nutrition content, he says.

Weber’s also features organic berries in the store’s organic section.

“There are people who are committed to the organic lifestyle who make that choice all the time,” he says.


Steady sales

Strawberry sales have been “steady” at Piggly Wiggly Markets, Dippel says, with the 1-pound clamshell the package of choice, but the chain features 2- and 4-pounders on occasion.

The cost per tray generally doesn’t vary, Dippel says, whether it contains eight 1-pounders, four 2-pounders or two 4-pounders.

The chain offers organic strawberries most of the time, as long as the quality and price are right, he says.

The stores cross merchandise strawberries with shortcakes, glazes and smoothie mixes.

“They help sell the berries,” Dippel says.

Albert E. Lees offers 1-pound containers exclusively but sometimes offers stem berries for such holidays as Valentine’s Day and the Fourth of July.

Cummings cross-merchandises strawberries with shortcake shells and sometimes with buttermilk biscuits from the bakery and in the cereal aisle.

He sometimes uses POP materials.

“We don’t get as much as we used to,” he says. “If it’s nice and colorful and we can use it in the display, we use it.”

He says he sometimes promotes the health benefits of strawberries when he sets up a large display.

The store features organic strawberries whenever they’re available.


Merchandising tips

Suppliers shared some of their own merchandising suggestions.

“We love when retailers help us inspire consumers by putting a portable display case of berries in the dairy aisle, or putting granola next to the berry display,” says Kyla Garnett, marketing manager for Naturipe Farms LLC, Salinas, Calif. “By showing consumers usage ideas, we are creating healthy impulse purchases.”

The 1-pound clamshell represents the majority of what is packed and sold, but consumers like a choice, says Cal-Giant’s Jewell.

“Families with kids will lean more toward the larger pack sizes to satisfy their needs,” Jewell says.

John King, vice president of sales for San Diego-based Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce, agrees.

“We see retailers every day adding either a 2-pound, 3-pound or 4-pound clamshell,” he says. “What it comes down to is that 1 pound of strawberries is not a lot of strawberries.

Repeat business has been very good on larger pack styles, he adds.

Interact with consumers through social media, advises Michelle Deleissegues, director of marketing for Salinas, Calif.-based Red Blossom Sales Inc.

She recommends displaying POP materials that redirect shoppers so they can use their cell phones and various social media accounts to find serving suggestions, nutrition information, coupons and updates on price and availability.

“People expect information to be at their fingertips now,” she says.

“Those sources of information are also a good way for retailers and growers to tell their story — to reach out to the consumers, link them to what is important about the product or the grower and tell what is special about them,” Deleissegues says.

“It really gives you a chance to build a conversation and a relationship with the consumer,” she adds.


Upfront displays

“Primary display positions are always highly recommended,” says Dan Crowley, sales manager for Well-Pict Inc., Watsonville, Calif.

That’s easy to do at the front end of the season, he says. But during the summer, when strawberries face competition from commodities such as stone fruit, grapes, cherries and melons, some retailers tend to push strawberries out of the prime positions.

Crowley suggests keeping strawberries on end cap displays rather than secondary displays or in the wet section.

“Time and time again, they’ve proven to be one of the highest-margin items in the produce department,” he says.

He also emphasizes the importance of maintaining the cold chain.

“We do everything on our part to get them off the plant and precooled down to 32 degrees and transported at (the right) temperature,” he says.

He recommends that retailers keep that cold chain intact after they arrive at the distribution center, go out to the stores and onto the floor.

Practicing the proper cold chain management will “get the optimum product out to the consumer,” he says.

He also recommends using refrigerated tables once the product hits the floor.

Ted Campbell, executive director of the Dover-based Florida Strawberry Growers Association, says big displays go a long way toward promoting strawberry sales.

“The fruit pretty much sells itself,” he says. “If they have a nice, beautiful display that’s fresh and ripe, you can’t resist strawberries. Everybody loves them.”

He also encourages promoting alternative strawberry usage in salads and things other than desserts.

“Stimulate the imagination,” he says. “Strawberries are used in many, many things nowadays.”

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