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California Fresh: The Growth In Produce


PG presents a special report on blossoming spring sales.

When it comes to homegrown produce, California is king The state produces nearly half of the country's fruits, nuts and vegetables. The Golden State's 81,500 farms and ranches garnered $34.8 billion from its 400 agricultural commodities in 2009, making it the richest farming state in the nation, according to the Sacramento-based California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA). Of that, more than $19 billion was attributable to the sale of fruits, nuts, vegetables and melons, according to the organization.

Americans aren't the only ones enjoying California's abundance of fresh fruits and veggies. The state is also the nation's largest agricultural exporter. In 2009, California's farmers and ranchers exported some $12.4 billion worth of agricultural products — more than 22 percent of the state's total production for that year — notes the CDFA. One hundred percent of U.S. exports of almonds, artichokes, dates, dried plums, figs, garlic, kiwifruit, olives, pistachios, raisins and walnuts come from California.

What makes California so good at growing tender asparagus, juicy grapes and pungent garlic? The state's moderate climate, fertile soil and diversity of growing regions allow for a steady stream of flavorful produce throughout the year. But with the advent of spring, when the farm-fresh flavors from this state whet the country's collective appetite, everyone's asking for more.

PG Gets Fresh

Spring produce from California is ripe for the picking, and Progressive Grocer is celebrating its arrival with California Fresh, a special section devoted to the fruits and vegetables of the season, the latest industry trends, and the tips and tools supermarkets can use to increase sales and build customer loyalty in this burgeoning category.

And what better time to create tantalizing displays in your produce department? Warmer weather isn't the sole trend spurring consumers' cravings for crisp greens and sweet berries; the USDA's new dietary guidelines and the “Fruits & Veggies — More Matters” program (see related sidebar for the latest updates to More Matters' messaging on page 106) both emphasize the need for Americans to eat more fruits and vegetables — more than the five daily servings previously recommended.

Consumers have responded to the news by investing in their health and increasingly piling fresh produce on their plates. According to the “Q4 Fresh-Facts on Retail Report” from the Washington-based United Fresh Produce Association, weekly dollar sales for fruit increased 3.1 percent, value-added fruit sales increased 8.4 percent, and sales in the value-added vegetables category were up 4.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010 vs. the same period in 2009.

Organic apples, berries, grapes, citrus and avocados have all seen double-digit percentage growth in sales, while berries, grapes, citrus and avocados have seen the same double-digit percentage growth in weekly volume, according to the “FreshFacts” report, produced in partnership with the Chicago-based Perishables Group and sponsored by Del Monte Fresh Produce in Coral Gables, Fla. Headlining growth was the organic prepared fruit category, with weekly dollar sales up 83.4 percent and volume up 46.2 percent, notes “FreshFacts,” which measures retail price and sales trends for the top 10 fruit and vegetable commodities, as well as value-added, organic and other produce categories.

Promoting California Spring Produce

It's in the soil. It's in the sunshine. It seems California can't help but grow what's good to eat, but there's more to the inherent marketability of its produce than, well, dirt.

“There's just a panache to California — a certain lifestyle that appeals to people and helps sell our products,” says Maile Shanahan Geis, executive director of Sacramento-based California Grown, a program encouraging the consumption of fruits and vegetables from the state. “There's the sense that when you buy fresh California produce, you're making a healthy choice.”

Supermarkets can cash in on California's cachet with produce displays and signage highlighting that picture of health. Whetheryou're looking for inspiration foryour spring produce display or you want to add nutritional oomph to your signage, check out these merchandising tips and educational bites fresh from California.

Artichokes: Spark sales with an artichoke display that incorporates a variety of types, from baby artichokes to Green Globes, suggests Robert Schueller, director of public relations for Los Angeles-based Melissa's Produce. “Spring is a platform for artichokes across the country. They are at their peak of the season now,” he notes. Schueller recommends using artichokes in Passover, Easter and Mother's Day displays.

Asparagus: This perennial garden vegetable is a member of the lily family and originally hails from the east Mediterranean region. California is the nation's leading producer of asparagus, and, according to the Stockton-based California Asparagus Commission, these long and lovely veggies are loaded with nutrition. Just five stalks of asparagus are an excellent source of folic acid. And asparagus is also a good source of vitamin C and antioxidants such as carotenoids.

Brussels Sprouts: Fresh Brussels sprouts are always enticing when cross-merchandised as part of a spring grilling or roasted veggies section, says Mishalin Modena, marketing manager for Salinas, Calif.-based Growers Express. Cross-promote Brussels sprouts, new potatoes, onions and carrots, along with a few marinades and grill seasonings, for a display that's sure to attract customer attention. Promote these items at the entrance of the produce section during all of your spring and summer holiday promotions.

Chilies: Think Cinco de Mayo this spring, says Schueller of Melissa's. Cross-merchandise avocados, jicama, tomatillos, and fresh and dried chilies in a range of heat levels, and let the fiesta begin.

Garlic: California's unique combination of warm Mediterranean climate and rich, fertile Central Valley fields creates the perfect growing conditions for garlic, according to The Garlic Company of Bakersfield, Calif., which suggests the following uses to consumers: Sprinkle garlic on your favorite soup or chili, chop a pouch of pre-peeled recipe-ready garlic and add to your next sauce, deep-fry cloves for a unique appetizer, or spoon some minced garlic into your mashed potatoes.

Grapes (Table): According to the Fresno-based California Table Grape Commission, the average American consumes about 8 pounds of fresh grapes peryear, and a whopping 98 percent of those grapes come from California. In addition to the health benefits of grapes (researchers have linked their consumption to the prevention of cancer and heart disease), they're also a versatile ingredient, notes the commission, which recommends adding them to salads, desserts, sauces and even pizza.

Olives: California olives pair with a bounty of produce. Lindsay Olives offers shippers for its black ripe sliced olives and black ripe Re-closeables products that allow for easy cross-merchandising in the produce department, says Jen Fuchs, consumer marketing manager for Lafayette, Calif.-based Bell-Carter, parent company of Lindsay Olives. Try displaying California avocados alongside a Lindsay Olives merchandising vehicle/shipper, and surround them with all of the ingredients needed for a surprisingly delicious twist on traditional guacamole.

Strawberries: When it comes to strawberries, go for the “tried and true,” says merchandising manager Jim Grabowski of Well-Pict Berries in Watsonville, Calif. Create a berry category destination, a place where shoppers know they will find exactly what they are looking for. Display strawberries in prominent areas throughout the spring and summer, as larger displays in the front of the department can increase sales significantly. Make use of all of the different-size berry packages available (1-pound, 2-pound, 4-pound). If space allows, incorporate additional items such as dessert shells, pound cakes and whipped cream for extra impulse sales. And finally, add signage touting the health benefits of strawberries: They are low in calories, high in vitamin C and low in sugar, and include fiber and antioxidants.

Andy's Market: Cali-based Produce Guru Shares Secrets for Growth

Whether it's a sense of California's prosperous history of produce retailing or the future of this colorful industry you're after, Andy's Produce is the place to go.

Demetri Skikos, known as “Dee,” and his brother, Andy, grew up in the produce business. Born and raised in Utah, the pair have been thumping melons and trimming lettuce since they were little kids. In 1963, the brothers moved to California and opened Andy's Market.

Considered one of Northern California's top produce markets, Andy's operates a retail and wholesale produce business in Sebastopol. About half of the 20,000-square-foot store is dedicated to retail space, and half of that space is devoted to produce — typically 200 distinct types at a given time. Andy's wholesale business delivers fresh produce to other area markets and the restaurants of Northern California's famed wine country six days a week.

For nearly half a century, Andy's GM Dee Skikos has been merchandising, buying and selling California produce. “The eating habits of Americans have changed in the last 50 years. The biggest change in the produce industry is with potatoes. We used to sell 100-pound sacks of potatoes,” recalls Dee. “Then it went to 20 pounds, and then 10. Today, our biggest potato sales are loose."

Another major force in produce has been the organic movement. “Organic is now a big player in the market,” notes Dee, who can remember when organic wasn't even a category in the produce department.

These days, he sees a more educated clientele driving sales of produce, from organic baby lettuce to sweet potatoes, that offers the greatest health benefits. “People are much more educated about nutrition now, and that impacts what sells. For example, head lettuce used to be our No. 1-selling lettuce, and now it's spring salad mix,” Dee says.

When it comes to spring produce, the anticipation for “what's new” at Andy's is palpable, according to Dee. Customers start asking for things like asparagus, strawberries, apricots and cherries before they're available. The moment they are, Andy's creates eye-catching, well-located displays to promote the new arrivals.

“Where you place produce is very important,” Dee notes. “Our thinking is, if you're going to do a promo, put it out where the customers can see it. If you come in here, you'll probably trip over it.”

With more than five decades of produce merchandising experience, Dee knows a thing or two about attracting customer attention to the category. “Produce merchandising is an art and a science that is dying,” he laments. The reason for this, Dee believes, is that the same person who buys the produce is, in many cases, no longer the one merchandising it.

“At Andy's, the people who stock the produce are also doing the buying,” he explains. “This is one of the secrets to our success. We always say, 'Before you buy, know what you need. Then, know what you've received, and never overbuy.'”

What sells produce better than anything? “Sure, it's always effective to merchandise the produce so you break up the colors, but it's the fresh appearance that really sells it,” asserts Dee. “All our lettuce is trimmed and washed, and that gives it a fresher look, and we don't use colored lights. The freshness speaks for itself.”

Ultimately, Dee says, succeeding in the produce business is like succeeding in any other. “If you want to do any business right, you have to love it, which we do. And we also believe in doing business by the Golden Rule: Be fair to all people we buy from and to our customers.”

Cal Growers' Top Two Emerging Trends

PG's editors are seeing two produce trends gathering momentum from the California coast: One is high tech, and the other is technically little (think kids).

As a state that's home to both the tech-driven Silicon Valley and the plow-driven Salinas Valley, it makes perfect sense that California would lead the way in farm-fresh smartphone apps and more. From traceable strawberries, to artichoke recipes downloaded to phones, to QR code promotions, the state is harvesting a host of high-tech treats for consumers of its produce.

Consider Top 10 Produce LLC, which recently launched Locale, a strawberry brand that's 100 percent traceable to the farm of origin. Each Locale Salinas Valley strawberry grower has a product label that can be scanned with ShopSawy, the No. 1 shopping application for smart-phone users, to display a mobile profile controlled by the grower.

While primarily focused on California retailers, the California Grown campaign offers a free “California Grown Lift Kit” for all U.S. retailers looking to boost sales of produce from the Golden State. Visit for details.

“Consumers have the opportunity to become personally acquainted with the real grower and the grower's family,” says John Bailey, Top 10 produce executive director. The grower profile includes information about the farmer, a map of the location where the product was grown, and links to the farmer's Facebook and Twitter accounts.

‘More Matters’ Updates Messaging

In a bid to further encourage consumers to eat more fruits and vegetables, the Produce for Better Health Foundation (PBH) has devised a new positioning statement and additional brand messages for its “Fruits and Veggies — More Matters” health initiative.

The new supporting brand messages “do not replace our current Fruits & Veggies — More Matters core messages, but will be used to enhance and support them,” explains Elizabeth Pivonka, president and CEO of Hockessin, Del.based PBH. “We hope to see the entire industry include these new supporting messages in their consumer outreach efforts, with the goal of increasing the consumption of healthy fruits and vegetables."

Even though consumption numbers have since come up for specific groups, like children ages 2-12, 18-to 34-year-old males, and females age 18-54, most Americans still aren't eating enough fruits and vegetables, says Pivonka, whose nonprofit group, along with the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control (CDC), has worked to craft a positioning statement and new supporting brand messages that, along with the existing core brand messages, will be used in media distributions, public relations outreach, educational materials and other points of consumer contact.

The positioning statement and new supporting brand messages are as follows:

Make Fruits and Veggies About Half of What You Eat, Every Time You Eat:

A supporting statement for the 2010 Dietary Guidelines and Fruits & Veggies — More Matters helps quantify for Americans how many daily servings of fruits and vegetables they should consume.

Better Health Options:

Combined with physical activity, eating the right amount of fruits and veggies can keep your family healthy and going strong.

Good Nutrition:

Eating and drinking colorful fruits and veggies provide a natural variety of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and fiber that allows you to be your best every day.


Fruits and veggies provide naturally flavorful tastes and textures that satisfy everyone's palate — alone or in recipes.

Simple to Do/Within Reach:

No points. No complex program. Fruits and veggies offer a great value — good foryour budget, good for your body.

The new message will reinforce More Matters' original core messages, which are:

■ Fruits and veggies provide the unrivaled combination of great taste, nutrition, abundant variety and multiple product forms.

■ Eating fruits and veggies matters in maintaining

a healthy weight and may reduce the risk of many diseases.

■ All product forms of fruits and veggies count — fresh, frozen, canned, dried and 100 percent juice.

■ Eating a colorful variety of fruits and veggies provides a wide range of valuable nutrients such as fiber, vitamins and potassium.

■ Every step taken toward eating more fruits and veggies and getting more physical activity helps families be at their best.

“It seemed fitting to premier these new supporting brand messages during [March] National Nutrition Month — the same month that Fruits & Veggies — More Matters was originally introduced,” notes Pivonka.

While currently this information is available only for Locale brand strawberries, Salinas, Calif.-based Top 10 will soon offer this service to any brand selling produce supplied by growers it licenses.

Ocean Mist Farms of Castroville, Calif., has also gone mobile, with a newly launched mobile device-friendly version ( of its website that offers artichoke cooking videos, preparation tips, recipes and more. The new mobile site will also allow Ocean Mist to execute QR code promotions and make instant in-store connections with artichoke shoppers.

Produce News and Promotions

Sunkist to Debut Grapes this Spring

Sunkist, the well-known citrus supplier based in Sherman Oaks, Calif., is expanding its offerings to include table grapes this spring. In collaboration with Sunkist grower/ shippers; Richard Bagdasarian Inc. of Mecca, Calif., and Bravante Produce of Reedley, Calif., Sunkist's line of table grapes will include a dozen varieties of popular red, green and black seedless grapes, as well as the Red Globe seeded variety. Working with growers from two distinct regions will enable Sunkist to provide customers with table grapes from May through December. In the first year of the program, the company expects to bring about 2 million cartons of grapes to market.

Mann Packing Teams Up With Reynolds Wrap

Mann Packing of Salinas, Calif., is joining forces with the maker of Reynolds Wrap Foil on a springtime cross-promotion to encourage grilling for the Easter holiday. The promotion, which began March 21, features 1 million instant redeemable coupons for $1 off Reynolds Wrap Heavy Duty Aluminum Foil that are affixed to all Mann's packages of Vegetable Medley (12 ounces), Butternut Squash Cubes (12 ounces and 20 ounces), Sweet Potato Fries (12 ounces), and Sweet Potato Cubes (16 ounces) shipped in the United States. The on-pack offer will also feature a recipe for grilling a family-sized Lemon Dill Vegetable Packet. For details, visit

Royal Rose Promotes Red Veggie Health

Royal Rose Radicchio of Salinas, Calif., is reminding retailers that May is National Salad Month with some health tips about red veggies. Bright-red vegetables, like radicchio, are a good source of dietary fiber; vitamins B6, K, E, and C; and minerals such as iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, potassium, copper and manganese, according to the company. The red color in fruits and vegetables denotes phytonutrients, including lycopene, ellagic acid, quercetin and hesperidin, which offer additional health benefits. For a host of refreshing spring recipes using radicchio, visit

‘Potatoes Are Back’: USPB

While potato sales became a casualty of the low-carb diet craze a few years back, potato consumption is back up, according to the Denver-based United States Potato Board (USPB), and consumers are once again romancing the spud. Per capita consumption of potatoes increased from 67 annual eatings in 2009 to 74 eatings in 2010, according to the USPB, which also reports that U.S. potato exports have exceeded $1 billion for three years running. During the USPB 2011 Annual Meeting in March, president and CEO Tim O'Connor reported that currently only 18 percent of consumers hold negative attitudes about potatoes. “I'm excited to tell you we are back to where we were prior to the low-carb diets,” he said.

Stemlit Growers Promotes Olympic-Style Health

Stemilt Growers of Wenatchee, Wash., is making a splash on its website through a newly launched Healthy Living section that features elite athletes and U.S. water polo Olympians. Stemilt was named the Official Fresh Fruit sponsor of USA Water Polo's National Governing Body in November 2010. The new Healthy Living section on Stemilt's site highlights this partnership and seeks to educate consumers on the benefits of eating the types of fresh fruit offered by the grower, such as apples, pears, cherries, stone fruits and blueberries. The site also includes healthy-living advice and tips for serving and storing fresh fruit. Visit for more details.

Green Apples for a Green Cause

Through its “Support Healthy Forests” campaign, Yakima-based FirstFruits Marketing of Washington and its growers have committed to donate 10,000 trees to national reforestation projects. From March through May, all FirstFruits Granny Smith apples will feature special packaging and point-of-sale information highlighting the Healthy Forests campaign. The promotion, timed to coincide with Earth Day on April 22, is available to all U.S. retailers. For each case of Granny Smith apples purchased, FirstFruits will make a donation to the National Arbor Day Foundation. Retailers can support the program by promoting and displaying FirstFruits Granny Smith apples, holding display contests, running ads around Earth Day and featuring campaign messages. For more information, contact FirstFruits director of marketing Andy Tudor at [email protected].

New Citrus Cookbook from Duda

Duda Farm Fresh Foods, the Oviedo, Fla.-based exclusive marketing agent for Peace River Packing in Fort Meade, Fia., has joined with the Florida Department of Citrus (FDOC) to offer free Florida citrus cookbooks. The coupons will be included on Dandy brand Florida oranges, tangerines and grapefruit. After purchasing a 3-pound or larger bag of these citrus products, consumers can redeem a coupon along with a receipt of purchase to the FDOC for a free Florida citrus cookbook featuring 34 recipes and color photos. The cookbook also highlights citrus nutrition, varieties, seasonality, selection and storage. The coupons must be redeemed with the FDOC by May 31, 2011. For more promotion details, visit

Advertiser Resource Directory

Bell-Carter Foods Inc.

Ripe-olive expert Bell-Carter Foods Inc. offers a range of retail products under the Lindsay brand, as well as private label options. Its new Lindsay Re-closeables in reusable plastic bowls are a great way to enjoy the company's Black Ripe or Italian Seasoned olives. Additionally, Lindsay Snackers is a perfect on-the-go snack that comes in three flavors: Italian Seasoned, Garlic Seasoned and Original. The brand's savory Black or Green Ripe Naturals are smooth, buttery and nutty at the same time.

3742 Mt. Diablo Blvd.

Lafayette, CA 94549

Contact: Erin North

Tel: 925-284-5933

Growers Express

Growers Express ships a variety of fresh produce from California, as well as Arizona, Oregon, Ohio and Mexico. Products include iceberg lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, green onions, celery and leaf lettuces that are complemented by a full line of bunched items. Green Giant Fresh chose Growers Express to exclusively license its branded lettuces and mixed vegetables. Growers Express also offers the premium Capurro Farms brand.

1219 Abbott Street

Salinas, CA 93901

Contact: Mishalin Modena

Tel: 831-751-1379

Mariani Packing Co.

Mariani offers a full assortment of premium dried fruits and snacks, including Dried Apricots, Dried Cherries, Raisins, Dates, Sun Dried Tomatoes, Dried Island Fruits, Yogurt Covered Raisins and Honey Bars — the last a line of all-natural fruit and nut snack bars bound together with a touch of honey.

500 Crocker Drive

Vacaville, CA 95688-8706

Contact: Lisa Goshgarian

Tel: 707-452-2878

The Garlic Company

The Garlic Company offers a fresh and flavorful range of garlic products, from Whole Bulb to Peeled Garlic to Garlic Braids to Crisp Roast Garlic Bits. All of the company's products are available in organically grown alternatives if desired, and all of its California-grown products can be certified organic or kosher.

18602 Zerker Road

Bakersfield, CA 93314

Contact: Corrine Sabovish

Tel: 661-393-4212

Well-Pict Berries

Well-Pict offers a full line of berries, including luscious red strawberries, sweet bite-sized raspberries, and tart, juicy blackberries. Its conventional and organic lines of strawberries and raspberries are grown year-round, with its conventional and organic blackberry season running May through August.

P.O. Box 973

Watsonville, CA 95077

Contact: Dan Crowley

Tel: 831-722-3871

QR codes — two-dimensional codes readable by smartphones — are also being used by California Giant Berry Farms of Watsonville. The company has added QR codes to its clamshells, which can be scanned with a smartphone for a chance to win prizes all season long. Once consumers scan the QR code on California Giant Berry clamshells, they are directed to a microsite,, that invites them to enter for a chance to win a weekly prize of $100. The company plans to announce winners each week on Facebook.

“This initiative is really embarking on new territory for us as we learn more about how consumers are changing their behavior based on social media marketing using their smartphones,” says Cindy Jewell, California Giant director of marketing. “We agree with the experts that the potential for QR codes is limitless, as they enhance the social media experience of bringing people together with technology.”

Other California produce companies, such as Frieda's in Los Alamitos and Earthbound Farms in San Juan Bautista, are reaching out to customers through Facebook. Both companies recently launched promotions that rewarded customers who “Like” them on the social networking site.

Marketing to Kids

The second rapidly growing trend sprouting from the world of California produce is products marketed to kids. With the country's childhood obesity epidemic making daily headlines, concerned parents are perpetually on the lookout for ways to improve their little ones' health, particularly in the healthful-snack realm.

LoBue Citrus of Lindsay, Calif., has stepped up to the task with the launch of Ribbitz, a new brand of seedless mandarin oranges in bold, kid-friendly packaging. The packaging, which features a smiling frog, touts the message “Hoppin with flavor.” Ribbitz mandarins are the perfect size for little hands. They're also sweet, easy to peel and ideal for on-the-go snacking.

Another mandarin orange supplier, Cecelia's, recently debuted its own cuddly-looking character. “Dimples, the adorably delicious, incredibly nutritious illustrated children's character,” appears on Orange Grove, Calif.-based Cecelia Packing's Golden Nugget Mandarin Oranges to help encourage younger consumers to eat more healthfully.

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