Compared to all other parts of the years, the fall selling season used to be an afterthought to produce merchandiser and retailers.
Expanded fall fruit options is one reason that Dick Spezzano says that is no longer the case.

Spezzano, president of Spezzano Consulting Services, Monorovia, Calif., was a product executive with The Vons Cos. from 1980-97 and is a lifelong observer of retail produce trends.

“It used to be that in August the prune plums would come in — that was a signal the tree fruit deal was winding down quickly,” he said. 

Today, with peach and nectarine varieties marketed well into September, that is no longer the case.

Spezzano said improved grape varieties have also made the fall selling season much more interesting.

Years ago, the fourth quarter of the year was easily the worst-selling period for the fresh produce department by a wide margin.

During the last quarter of the year, Spezzano recalls, retailers would lose summer’s bounty of tree fruit, melons, berries and lose quality grapes.

“What (grapes) you didn’t lose, the quality was not very good and you had a lot of shrink,” he said.

While the new crops of apples, pears and citrus were welcomed, they didn’t replace the sales power of the summer fruit.

The fourth quarter was significantly the worst quarter of the year, with the 10 days around Thanksgiving and 10 days around Christmas the high points.

Now, improved varieties and greater availability of grapes, berries, melons, late-season stone fruit and new varieties of apples provide great sales opportunities and bring the quarter on part with the first quarter, he said.

“It is not the gloom and doom it once was,” he said.

In the case of grapes, Spezzano said the best varieties of grapes now are available from August forward from California. 

“It’s really limited the Peruvians and Chileans from coming in the month of November and December,” he said. 

“Retailers love to promote grapes because they get a great lift and it’s a high-ticket item,” he said.

“A bag of grapes is two pounds plus so you get a $4 sale every time, maybe $5,” he said.

Retailers also love grapes because consumers tend to buy the fruit more often than a fruit like apples.

“You can eat a three-pound or four-pound bags of apples for a couple of weeks, but generally speaking when a consumer buys grapes, they are eaten by the fifth day after they were bought,” he said. 

That can lead to more repeat purchases to feed the family, he said.

While the longer grape season does present competition, Spezzano said apples now give retailers a lot of options, even in August.

“Fifteen years ago you might have had the new crop out of Chile or out of New Zealand, and you might have had old storage red delicious, and that was about it,” he said. 

Now, Spezzano said, there are multiple varieties of apple options.

“It’s more exciting because of the year-round availability when you are shopping in October, November and December — you can still buy very good strawberries, very good blueberries, really good grapes, and you have got new apple varieties,” Spezzano said.

Add the fall assortment of pomegranates, persimmons and pumpkins and sales opportunities expand even more. 

“It used to be that if you sold a couple of bucks of pomegranates you were a hero (as a retailer); now they come in bins and have a much bigger supply,” Spezzano said, giving credit to The Wonderful Co. for doing the heavy lifting to expand the pomegranate category. 

Pomegranate arils also are a growth item.

Sun Pacific’s large share of the California kiwifruit crop with the Mighties Kiwi brand, combined with the company’s pre-conditioning efforts, also has proved valuable to boost the category, Spezzano said. 

“It seems the retailers like those packs — the six-packs, the two-pounders, even though the retail is $2.99-5.99 or whatever it might be,” he said.