While a well-known treat in areas like the West Coast of the U.S., artichokes still are making their first impression on many consumers.
Dillons Food Stores, a Hutchinson, Kan., 90-store division of Cincinnati-based Kroger Co., leads customers to its website for “Artichokes: A Healthy Finger Food,” an article that offers tips on selecting, preparing, cooking and eating the nutritious vegetable.
Raley’s Family of Fine Stores, a 132-store chain based in West Sacramento, Calif., offers an online “The Art of Artichokes” recipe section, with links to dishes including artichoke dipping sauces, artichoke quesadillas, chicken salad-stuffed artichokes and spring artichoke paella.
And the produce section of Sweetbay Supermarket’s website displays a label describing artichokes’ nutritional profile — complete with calorie, fat and fiber content — plus a list of the vitamins and minerals contained in a single jumbo artichoke. Sweetbay, a 100-store chain based in Tampa, Fla., is a part of the Belgium-based Delhaize Group.
Healthful at zero grams of fat and just 60 calories per medium artichoke, versatile and available year-round, artichokes are an ideal addition for produce managers seeking a more exotic vegetable to add to their inventories.
The Artichoke Challenge: getting customers to try
Moving artichokes at the Wegmans Pittsford store in Rochester, N.Y., is not a tough task.
“Artichokes are very good sellers here — we’re not in a position to have to train our customers about them,” says Rick Pitt, assistant produce manager.
Still, promotions (albeit infrequent ones) are planned. Last December, the store’s Wegmans Menu Cooking School offered a class that included a demonstration on preparing and cooking artichokes.
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“It was a one-shot thing, but I think it helped sales,” Pitt says.
But Pitt’s experience isn’t a universal one. Artichokes are a tough sell at Kowalski’s Market in Woodbury, Minn.
“We used to do long-stemmed artichokes, but they were almost two times the price [of short-stemmed artichokes] so we dropped them. We switched to short-stemmed artichokes and they do a little better,” produce manager Tim Fortier says. “But we only have about 20 of them on a shelf in with the rest of the vegetables.”
Growers agree artichoke sales can be challenging.
“With less than half of shoppers making the decision to buy at the store, it increases the importance of reaching out to people when they are not in the retail environment with information about artichoke usage, nutrition and preparation,” says Kori Tuggle, director of marketing and business development for Castroville, Calif.-based Ocean Mist Farms.
Raley’s features an annual sales contest during the peak of the Castroville season in late April through early June, says John Holder, senior manager of produce and floral. The sales contest focuses on increasing sales and innovative cross promotions.
“Whenever we promote, our supplier Ocean Mist Farms also will broadcast our web blast to their social media contacts,” Holder says.
Raley’s promotes artichokes on end caps and lobby displays and encourages cross promotional tie-ins with grocery and general merchandise, he says.
Pricing promotions also are key.
“Artichokes are an ad-driven commodity,” says Russ Widerburg, sales manager at Oxnard, Calif.-based Boskovich Farms. “Promotions during holidays, holiday weekends and sporting event weekends appear to drive sales for retailers.”
The time of year also affects sales.
“Because of the longer preparation time it takes to cook artichokes, demand appears to be better in the cooler months rather than the warmer months of late spring and summer. Colder climate areas have better demand than the warmer climates,” Widerburg says. “The next big promotion time for artichokes will be Easter.”
There are ways to transform marketing challenges into sales-generating opportunities.
Social media tools are one way to reach out to current and prospective artichoke customers this Spring. Ocean Mist, for example, has created an Artichoke Aficionados Club that provides members with what the company describes as “the inside scoop on all things artichokes.”
The club now has more than 33,000 members, Tuggle says.
“These club members are provided what they are looking for when it comes to artichokes: recipe ideas, how-to videos and email blasts with where to find artichokes on sale,” Tuggle says.
Ocean Mist also offers a mobile site — m.oceanmist.com — that includes an exclusive list of retail artichoke promotions so consumers can find artichoke sales in their preferred banner store and region, Tuggle says.
Displaying point-of-sale materials that feature artichoke selection and preparation tips, recipes and information that drives customers to a store’s website are other ways to engage customers and encourage them to buy.