Kiwifruit's uniqueness allows it to carve out a niche

10/11/2011 01:08:00 PM
Dan Gailbraith

Kiwifruit may not be among the top-selling items in the produce department, but it has a certain appeal to consumers who are looking for something different — and healthful — said Jeff Fairchild, produce director for the 11 Portland, Ore.-based New Seasons Market locations.

When Fairchild got into the produce business in the 1980s, shoppers perceived kiwifruit as a seasonal item, he said. But that’s no longer the case.

“I’m not sure that people think of kiwis as seasonal anymore,” he said.

Kiwifruit is available year-round, but faces stiff competition from summer fruit during the warmer months. That’s why Fairchild steps up his kiwifruit promotions in the autumn.

“We really start promoting in fall when people are looking for something different,” he said.

Although gold kiwifruit from New Zealand that turns up during the summer has its own following, and consumers loved it in the chain’s own taste test, Fairchild said it has not yet achieved its full potential.

“It’s a hard sell,” he said.

“It doesn’t have a long enough season for people to understand it.”

Unfortunately, he said, during the fall, when kiwifruit is more popular, the gold variety is not available.

Fairchild merchandises kiwifruit with fall fruit, like apples and pears, during summer and fall — not with summer fruit or tropicals.

It makes a good color break for the fall fruit category, he said.

Three or four times a year, many of the chain’s stores set up 125-pound bins of kiwifruit and sample the fruit in-store.

Fairchild said he triples his sales when he features kiwifruit on ad for $1.99 per pound.

“Having promotions is a strong way to help consumers learn about kiwi,” he said.

Fairchild also puts out nutrition information provided by kiwifruit suppliers.

“We’ve (attracted) some interest by doing that this year,” he said.

New Seasons Market typically merchandises about four cases at a time during the fall in round baskets in a featured area of the produce department, Fairchild said.

The stores usually display about two cases during the summer.

Don’t tuck kiwifruit away in a corner, David Posner, president and chief executive officer of Awe Sum Organics Inc., Capitola, Calif., advises produce managers.

“When kiwifruit is prominently displayed, it gets better movement,” he said.

Posner also advises retailers to price kiwifruit per piece, not by the pound.

“It’s hard to compare kiwifruit to the other fruits when everything else is by the pound and kiwifruit is by the each,” he said.

Selling by the pound also allows for flexibility in sizing, he added.

That philosophy seems to work for Fairchild, who sells only bulk kiwifruit and only by the pound.

“I’m having a lot of success doing it by the pound,” he said.

“It’s gotten me out of the game of having to figure out what sizes are available and limiting the size count.”

Not all retailers are as enamored by bulk kiwifruit as Fairchild.

Some retailers today use consumer packs exclusively, said Steve Riley, director of sales for Regatta Tropicals Ltd., Grover Beach, Calif.

The 1-pound bags are easy to display, and clamshells offer a convenient way for consumers to take home four to six pieces of fruit.

“It’s a nice pack,” he said.

However, the 9-kilo (19.84-pound) volume-fill carton remains the company’s bestselling pack.



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