Natural Foods Merchandiser

Focus on Kids and Convenience for a Prosperous Year

Produce Perspectives

As the year winds down, it?s a good time to look at trends in the produce department.

Produce departments continue to be a driving force behind successful stores. And this trend will continue, boosted by major media coverage as well as government regulators redesigning the food pyramid and revamping school lunch programs. The Produce for Better Health and 5 A Day programs are also adding voices to the chorus of information.

So where should you put your energy in the coming year? Here are a few suggestions.

Kids have a major influence over what goes into the shopping cart. And, like it or not, creative packaging and taste go a long way in influencing their decisions. Many companies are recognizing this. Melissa?s World Variety Produce designed plastic sleeves, with a friendly logo, to wrap around kid-sized apples and oranges. Earthbound Farm features a peeled baby carrots and ranch dip combo package. Your store could offer peanut butter or yogurt and apple slices during the after-school hours when kids are hungry and looking for a snack.

Is your department kid-friendly? Do you have a program for sampling to kids? Do your displays include kids in the shopping process? Have you reviewed your product line to consider what kids like?

Another growing category is convenience produce. We have customers who are told to eat better but are convinced they have no time and, in many cases, know very little about how to prepare fresh food. Add to this that many shoppers are willing to pay for convenience and you have a lot of opportunity.

For example, a while back I was walking through a supermarket with a farmer friend of mine and we saw two produce displays. One was sweet potatoes and the other russets. Each display was divided into a side with individually wrapped, bar-coded sweet potatoes or russets, with cooking instructions, and another side with regular naked spuds. The plastic-wrapped potatoes cost nearly twice as much as the others, yet outsold them 2-to-1.

At first I thought, ?Who doesn?t know how to bake a potato?? and lamented about where we might be headed if this is the future of produce. But the farmer reminded me that at least consumers would be eating a fresh potato instead of a frozen french fry.

Something I found that is gaining popularity and provides a service for convenience-driven customers as well as a good margin for you is a small bar with melon and cut fruit at the end of a cold island. Four to five bowls of cut-up, ready-to-eat fruit that can be mixed and matched, all for one price, has been a hit for many departments. And it can drive those kid sales, too.

After all my talk about convenience shoppers, an equal and opposite trend is farmers? markets. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 1994 there were 1,755 farmers? markets in the United States. In 2002 there were 3,100.

A recent Produce Marketing Association survey showed that during peak growing season, 37 percent of people polled prefer to buy produce from nonsupermarket retailers and 76 percent believe produce from the back of a pickup truck is fresher.

So what can you do about it? Well, first off, you may want to consider starting a ?buy fresh, buy local? program in your store. You may want to walk the farmers? markets in your area and see what may be drawing folks away from your store. Although you may not be able to replace the feel of the markets (though some stores are trying), you can set up a program to carry the growers? products. Put up a sign in your department saying that your customers can meet the farmer at the farmers? market on Tuesday and Saturday and can find his products fresh in your store all week long. Or you may want to set up your store as a drop-off point for a community-supported agriculture program, to bring those customers into your store. After all, not many local farmers are growing bananas or selling milk and cheese. This can be a win-win for everyone.

Mark Mulcahy runs an organic education and produce consulting firm. He can be reached at 707.939.8355, or by e-mail at [email protected]

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXV/number 12/p. 33

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