Merchandising Features / Trend Features

Veggie Fest 2011…And Beyond

October 31, 2011
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The produce aisle may seem the most idyllic place in a typical supermarket, what with its rows of brightly colored, fresh fruits and vegetables beckoning to shoppers as they begin their trek through a store.

But beneath the tranquility and misters used to keep produce looking fresh and cheery, two tug-of-wars are quietly at play. Produce buyers need to be aware of each and carefully pick their sides in them to maximize sales in this rapidly changing category.

The first war is being brought about by consumers interested in the local food movement. Worried about transportation costs and pesticides used on larger farms, some consumers, especially younger shoppers of Gen Y, are searching out locally grown produce.

Indeed, the local food movement is sending average Americans to farmers markets like never before, presenting challenges to traditional food retailers trying to hold onto their business.

Larger growers are responding by doing more educational campaigns directed at consumers, assuring them of the quality of produce on their supermarket shelves.

Larger growers have “a lot of interest in telling their story,” explains Mike Chirveno, a consultant with ClearVision Consulting, a Kansas City-based firm that works with large growers.

Growers are open to providing educational materials to retailers that are designed to encourage produce sales in traditional stores, he notes, so perishable buyers should be on the lookout for such offers that could stretch their marketing budgets in-store.

The second battle is between private label produce and branded produce. As national brand powerhouses, such as Dole, have branched into new produce categories, retailers have come to realize there’s also money to be made by expanding their private label offerings.

“As more produce is packaged and, in some from or fashion, value is added, the uniformity of the offering lends itself more to private label,” explains Bruce Axtman, president and chief executive officer at the Perishables Group, a Chicago-based fresh food consulting firm. “The trend is toward more packaged produce, more value-added, washed, pre-sliced, cut, ready-to-steam. As those things happen, it does lend itself more readily to private label.”

Indeed, secret shoppers that Perishables Buyer and its sister publication, PLBuyer, sent out to four stores across the country in late summer found more private label produce offerings than they did branded produce. In some stores, such as a Wegmans outlet in Maryland, most of the produce was either Wegmans private label or unbranded, unpacked items, one shopper reports.

 

Healthy Eating

While these cross currents swirl around the produce world, one positive for sales is that consumers perceive fresh fruits and vegetables as healthier than processed foods.

With the emphasis today, from the White House down to local communities, on healthy eating to combat the nation’s obesity epidemic, produce sales are rising.

U.S. vegetables sales, both fresh and canned, have risen 22 percent from 2005 through 2010 and sales should grow at a 6.2 percent compounded annual growth rate through 2015, predicts Mintel International Group Ltd., a London-based market research firm.

Sales for the U.S. fresh vegetable market totaled $45.2 billion in 2010, Mintel estimates. Roughly 59 percent of vegetables sold in supermarkets are unbranded, Mintel says. “Mintel expects fresh vegetable sales to continue to climb, reaching $62.3 billion in 2015,” its March 2011 report on vegetables states.

Looking at what sells in the produce aisle, Mintel notes that “Salad mixes are the sales leaders in the food, drug, and mass merchandisers, excluding Walmart,  vegetable market, with the top two positions taken by Chiquita Brands International, with its Fresh Express salad mix brand, and Dole Fresh Vegetables, with its Dole salad mixes, though both companies gave up share in 2009-10 to private label salad mixes. Larger retailers, such as Safeway and Kroger, have developed extensive private label salad mix lines.”

Speaking with PLBuyer earlier this year, Jamey Friedman, president of distributor and packing facility Freshouse, Salisbury, N.C., advised that stores should commit to private label in as broad an array of produce items as they feel comfortable with, to build brand loyalty.

“It’s consistency,” he says. “You’re pushing the idea that your product’s best, and that you have control of your supply chain because it’s on a lot of the packaging in the store. The consistency shows control, and it probably increases your buying power, too. It sends a message to the customer that you’re committed to it.”

Friedman has seen cases where retailers essentially come up with two different lines of private label produce—one a label that’s branded for its consistency and the other more of a value brand.

“They might use a different spec in that [value] label,” he says. “The off-sized stuff goes into another label with a better price point.”

 “A lot of retailers are doing really well promoting foods with the farmer’s label,” adds Roger Pepperl, marketing director with Stemilt Growers, Wenatchee, Wash. “There’s a camp that thinks private label is the way to go. There’s a camp that believes in telling people who grew it and talking about the farmer. It’s a real quandary for retailers right now.”

Finding the right answers for your market will spell higher sales, so it’s a quandary well worth considering. 

KEY POINTS:

A LOCAL FOCUS

Shoppers are increasingly seeking locally grown products that have a freshness halo.

THE PRIVATE LABEL PUSH

Store brands are becoming more prominent as merchandisers seek to differentiate their offerings.

VEGGIE POWER

Vegetable sales have risen significantly over the last five years and further growth is forecast.

NEW PRODUCTS:

Fresh express introduces two organic salad mixes

Fresh Express, a wholly owned subsidiary of Chiquita Brands, is introducing two organic salad mixes—Organic Baby Sweet Lettuce and Organic 50/50 Mix. Organic Baby Sweet Lettuce includes a blend of lettuce varieties, as well as Baby Spinach. Organic 50/50 Mix includes Baby Spinach and greens.

Amcor markets aluminum bowls for on-the-go and indulgent products

Amcor Flexibles Specialty Performance Food North America, Mundelein, Ill., is marketing new Canny aluminum bowls that feature a peelable membrane for a spillage-free opening. It is designed for package food portions of approximately 100, 115 or 140 milliliters.

Naturesweet ltd. adopts new packaging for its greenhouse cherry tomatoes

NatureSweet Ltd., San Antonio, Texas, is merchandising its cherry tomatoes in new packaging developed by Azusa, Calif.-based Direct Pack Inc. The packaging is designed for enhanced product visibility, better protection and an extended shelf life.

Decas cranberry products launches a line of dried cranberries

Decas Cranberry Products Inc., Carver, Mass., is launching a line of dried cranberries that are available for private label. The all-natural, fat-free cranberries are free of cholesterol, artificial colors and preservatives. A one-third cup serving equals one full serving of fruit.

Numerology – Fresh Facts:

$3,236

Weekly average store sales of BERRIES, the top-selling produce category. The next largest categories are packaged salads and tomatoes. (Perishables Group)

46.3%

Vegetables’ share of overall U.S. produce sales. Fruit has a 44.7 percent share. (Perishables Group)

5.9%

Increase in sales of value-added fruit in July 2011 compared to the year-earlier period, the largest gain among the top-10 produce categories. (Perishables Group)

34%

Projected growth rate of U.S. vegetable sales from 2010 to 2015. (Mintel International Group Ltd.)

4.6%

The average increase in weekly store produce sales for the U.S.’ Central region. It is the highest gain among all regions and greater than the 2.8 percent national increase. (Perishables Group)

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