Living produce presents a variety of promotional scenarios, marketers say.
The most important aspect of the category is the product is alive and fresh, but retailers need to make sure it gets noticed, said Dean Luurtsema, vice president of Jenison, Mich.-based Luurtsema Sales Inc., which features Living Salad Bowls among its products.
“Retailers like to test the waters, but I think you have to have a large display with good signage that draws people’s eyes to it,” he said.
It also requires commitment on the part of a retailer, Luurtsema said.
“Keeping it fresh helps, so you need to turn it over regularly, and that could be a challenge to retailers,” he said.
Retail and foodservice opportunities abound in the living produce category, said Vince Choate, marketing director with Hollandia Produce LP/Live Gourmet, Carpinteria, Calif.
“Everybody wants fresh products,” he said. “Every channel has an opportunity, too. White-tablecloth chefs like the uniformity and freshness factor, as well.”
Choate said the biggest challenge in building momentum for living produce at retail is getting it to “stand out” in the produce department.
“It basically comes down to promotion. Sampling is always a good idea when possible,” he said.
Retailers need to provide good advertising support of the products they offer, Luurtsema said.
The extra effort will pay off in higher sales, he said.
“Our Living Salad Bowls have been rising about 30% a year,” he said.
More retailers are getting acquainted with the category, which leads to still more sales, Luurtsema said.
“The challenges facing retailers with living produce versus cut are virtually the same — proper quality, storage, pricing, promotion and merchandising apply to both,” said Jim Fox, sales director of North Shore Greenhouses Inc., a Thermal, Calif.-based living herb supplier.
Retail is the primary sales venue, but restaurants also can offer living herbs, Fox said.
“The opportunities in foodservice are typically in higher-end restaurants,” he said.
The reason is customers who go to higher-end restaurants “expect the freshest ingredients, and what could be fresher than living herbs in a meal?” Fox said.
Salinas, Calif.-based Tanimura & Antle Inc. offers a hydroponic butter lettuce in a one-count package for retail and a three-count package for club stores, said Diana McClean, marketing director.
“Because we grow both conventional outdoor row crops and greenhouse grown hydroponic lettuce, we have a unique perspective on the benefits of both growing practices and are able to make decisions based on responsible supply chain management and food waste reduction,” she said.
In recent years, Tanimura & Antle decided to remove roots from its living product, in order to cut wasted space on the pallet and inside the package, McClean said.
“There is no the root or growing medium residue packed inside the clamshell, so (it is) close to 100% usable product for the consumer,” she said.
As a result, she said, the company can pack 35% more product per pallet than previously, when it packed with the roots.
McClean said that’s a benefit to the retailer.
Living produce is available all year, so supplies to the retail sector are steady and don’t have to travel far, said Daniel Terrault, vice president of business development with Mirabel, Quebec-based HydroSerre Mirabel Inc., which grows and ships hydroponic living lettuce to retailers in the East.
“For them, they can get supply 12 months a year from a local grower, which is pretty cool,” he said.
Most of HydroSerre Mirabel’s retail customers are within a five-hour drive of company’s greenhouses, Terrault said.
“That’s why we’re shipping to New York and Montreal and Quebec and Boston, and we’re trying to concentrate there,” he said.
Because they’re buying somewhat of a local product, retailers can adjust orders quickly, Terrault said.
“It’s the ease of doing business, being able to grow or cut their order,” he said.
The company ships about 23,000 boxes of a dozen lettuce heads a week, Terrault said.