Sacramento, Calif.-based General Produce Co. is collaborating with the California Asparagus Commission in April on a retail display contest.

General Produce sponsored a California asparagus display contest involving 40 grocery outlets and seven military commissaries in Northern California. The contest, April 7-13, was a way for grocery stores to showcase and boost their asparagus sales during California’s peak asparagus season, which began in March and should continue through May.

General Produce partnered with Sacramento wholesale produce company Rohrer Bros. Inc. to work with the commissaries for this contest.

“These contests really do drive sales,” said Mike Malena, retail sales manager at General Produce. “You get much bigger sales with these big displays. Produce just jumps in your basket.”

Malena said similar contests in the past for other commodities, such as Mexican avocados, Chilean stone fruit and bananas, have netted gains.

“We have seen (up) to 75% increases in sales (with these types of contests),” he said. “Consumers will shop these displays if they are inviting.”

Cherie Watte Angulo, executive director of the El Centro-based California Asparagus Commission, said promotions like this create excitement, stimulate sales and educate consumers on seasonality.

“With escalating interest in locally grown produce, we feel this gives us an opportunity to educate consumers on the timing of the California asparagus season and encourage them to enjoy fresh California asparagus as much as they can during our spring season,” she said.

Produce merchandisers assisted the supermarkets with ideas and direction as needed. What will the judges be looking for? Big, eye-catching displays in high-traffic areas of the store, possibly cross-promoting with something like mayonnaise or lemons, maybe using purple and white asparagus alongside green asparagus, or even displaying a classic spring item like California strawberries nearby as a magnet to draw consumers in.

“Stores can get creative and micromarket to their areas and what works for them,” he said.

The California Asparagus Commission provided point-of-sale material, which contains a quick-response code linking consumers to recipes and further information. In addition, select stores and commissaries conducted simple food demos of an asparagus recipe: Lemon Lovers Asparagus.

“That’s a key part to really increasing sales,” Malena said. “To have not only a full-blown display with (point-of-sale materials) but also supporting it with in-store demos really creates excitement.”

The grand prize-winning retail outlet and commissary will receive an iPad, with $100 and $50 generic gift cards going to second- and third-place winners. Commissaries will give away the gift cards to consumers.