Natural Foods Merchandiser

Hit a high 'C' in produce department

Produce Perspectives

It's November, so I'm sure that, like your customers, you are well into planning for the biggest food-shopping holiday of the year: How many boxes of sweet potatoes will I need? Should I stock conventional and organic cranberries this year? Should I put a case stack of winter squash or bagged russets at the front end?

But maybe you should also be planning for another feature of the holiday season: combating colds and flu. As you probably know, vitamin C has been shown to support a healthy immune system and, in some cases, may even lessen the severity and duration of colds. Perhaps we retailers should be doing more to help our customers get the vitamin C they need in their diets. The supplements section of your store has end caps of vitamin C along with other cold and flu fighters, right? So why shouldn't we do the same in produce? After all, nearly 2,500 years ago, Hippocrates said, "Leave your drugs in the chemist's pot if you can heal the patient with food."

The first thing to do is let your customers know which fruits and vegetables are high in vitamin C, which, according to the Food and Drug Administration, means they contain at least 20 percent of the recommended daily allowance in one serving. Perhaps you could put up a sign declaring your department "Your Fresh 'C' Center," with additional signage highlighting the C content of various produce items.

While customers most likely associate vitamin C with citrus fruits, like grapefruit (which has 110 percent of the RDA) lemons or Valencia oranges (both with 130 percent), there is a lot of other fruit to choose from—everything from strawberries, with 160 percent of the RDA, to watermelon at 25 percent. Kiwifruit logs in at a whopping 240 percent. Choose items that are in season so you can provide the best price and value. A display of kiwis, oranges and grapefruits arranged in a circle to form a yellow, brown and orange-ringed target should get customers' attention.

Though your customers are used to thinking about fruit when they think about vitamin C, don't forget to educate them about veggies, too, because they are C powerhouses. Broccoli contains 220 percent of the RDA, brussels sprouts 120 percent, cauliflower and mustard greens 100 percent, cabbage 70 percent and rutabaga 90 percent. Yes, the oft-forgotten brown and purple root has a lot of C. Heck, letting people know this may be just the boost your rutabagas need.

Or how about brussels sprouts? It seems like people either love them or hate them. Start by touting their vitamin C content. Then, let customers know that if it's been a few years since they last tried the tiny cabbages, they may be in for a big surprise. New hybrid varieties are sweeter than old types, especially when grown in cool weather. Growers are also trying harder to harvest brussels sprouts before they're too mature and strong-tasting. You may have to convince people, though, so have the prepared foods department sauté up a batch for you to demo, and don't be surprised if you find some new converts. Once people are hooked, make sure they know not to overcook them. It's one of the most common ways to ruin a perfectly good brussels sprout.

You can also work cooperatively with the supplements manager to promote other vegetables. Why not put a small ice table in the supplements section with a mound of broccoli and cauliflower next to the vitamin C display? And you can reciprocate by letting the supplements manager put some jars of food-based vitamin C supplements in a basket among your red and green cabbage. It would provide a great opportunity for your customers to make the connection that they can get what's good for them in many different ways.

I think your customers will appreciate you taking the time to educate them, especially during the busy holiday season when it's easy to overeat, indulge in too many rich foods and get stressed out. Some extra vitamin C from fresh, great-tasting fruits and vegetables may be the best gift they get all winter.

Mark Mulcahy runs Organic Options, an organic education and produce consulting firm. He can be reached at 707.939.8355 or at [email protected].

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVII/number 11/p. 28

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