The key to success in marketing specialty produce is keeping supply lines filled with no gaps in volume or quality, marketers say.

Don’t keep shoppers guessing whether you’ll have the product on hand from week to week, said James Macek, president of Coosemans Denver Inc.

“I think you have to be committed and have them week in and week out,” he said.

That means keeping a well-stocked and well-maintained specialty section with plenty of aesthetic appeal, he said.

“If you’re just doing it to throw out eye candy, if you want to make a splash for a grand opening and wow some people, that’s great, but if you want to really build that category for the long term, it’s important that, week in and week out, the consumer sees the baby squash is there,” he said.

Consumers may not buy the product every week, but it had better be there, just in case, Macek said.

“You can bet the time they come in and you don’t have it, they’ll go somewhere else,” he said.

How much and what type of specialty items to carry is a store-by-store decision, Macek said.

“Each store has to weigh the category’s success ratio and return on investment in that area,” he said.

Los Alamitos,Calif.-based specialties distributor Frieda’s Inc. focuses on guidance for its customers, said Karen Caplan, president.

“Introducing our consumers and customers to our produce is important,” she said. “Frieda’s is the expert on specialty category management and merchandising, and we offer our clients merchandising and training tools for their produce staff, as well as materials for produce department personnel to use for consumer education.”

Specialty items have to make great first impressions, said Marc Marchini, sales and marketing manager with Le Grand, Calif.-based J. Marchini & Sons Inc.

“These items also are so small that you need to make sure shippers do the best job they can to provide the best item to their customers,” he said. “They need to look at it, pay attention to it, make sure it’s really good quality.”

Bruce Klein, marketing director with Maurice A. Auerbach Inc. in Secaucus, N.J., agreed.

“Having the best quality is the most important thing in specialty items — it’s important in any item but more so with specialties,” he said.