Developing Creative Ways to Cross Merchandise

Developing Creative Ways to Cross Merchandise

Barbara Sax

Cross-merchandising is hardly a new concept. Yet many retailers fail to identify key opportunities to bring products together to boost sales and improve overall customer experience. 

Key Takeaways

  • The most effective cross merchandising programs for building traffic and loyalty are those that help consumers find meal solutions.
  • Retailers that put their own unique spins on commonly adopted cross merchandising strategies give them even more customer impact. 
  • Incorporating general merchandise in cross merchandising programs can make them even more successful.

According to Marcia Schurer, president of Chicago-based Culinary Connections, creating a strategy for cross-merchandising complementary products is critical for boosting impulse purchases and increasing additional sales per shopping trip.

“Any cross merchandising that encourages impulse buying should be a top priority for any retailer,” she says. “Once you get the customer in the store, you want to keep increasing that basket. Helping the consumer with their meal-planning efforts, and sampling items together so the customer can taste how well they complement each other, increases the chances of impulse buying.” 

Jim Hertel, SVP at Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Inmar Analytics, believes that the value of effective cross merchandising strategies goes beyond simply building baskets and traffic.

He’s convinced that it’s necessary to a store’s positioning in an ever-crowded marketplace in which younger consumers are seeking an experiential shopping environment. 

“The emerging consumer seeks convenience and new experiences, and cross merchandising done well delivers on both,” Hertel notes. “Good cross merchandising creates anticipation for shoppers who seek new and sophisticated eating and entertainment experiences, and helps a retailer surprise and delight the shopper, ultimately creating the kind of loyalty money can’t buy.”

The Most Bang for the Buck

Cross merchandising programs that are most effective in building traffic and loyalty are those that help consumers find meal solutions.

“Everybody is selling food. Consumers are seeking out the stores that are selling solutions,” says Cindy Sorensen, founder of The Grocery Group, in Minneapolis. “Retailers should be cross merchandising around what the consumer is looking for, whether it's local, transparency of labeling, meal solutions — even a particular type of diet.”

Developing Creative Ways to Cross Merchandise

Supermarket retailers are uniquely positioned to be that solution source for consumers and should make the most of their advantage, notes Schurer.

“So many consumers need help with meal planning, and supermarkets should be helping with that,” she says. “Every department in the store should be looking for ways to cross merchandise items that pair well together and are complementary to make meal planning easier for the customer.”

In support of her position, she cites a recent store display incorporating fresh pizza dough, fresh mozzarella cheese, fresh pizza sauce and sliced cured pepperoni to provide an easy meal idea by gathering all of the essential elements in one location. 

In another real-world example, Minneapolis-based Lunds & Byerlys recently added a 4-foot upright cooler near the deli featuring several elements of a dinner, such as a cut of meat, pre-cut vegetables and bagged salad.

“That display needs to have its selection changed at least twice a week to keep consumers interested,” says Sorensen. “It’s a great strategy that, with strong execution, can really deliver for the retailer and consumers.” 

Developing Creative Ways to Cross Merchandise Heineken Old El Paso

For his part, Wes Jaramillo, commercial marketing channel director of off-premise at White Plains, N.Y.-based Heineken USA, observes that regional or local cross promotions are more relevant to consumers than national ones are. “This leads to increased velocity at the point of purchase,” he explains.

The brand recently partnered with Minneapolis-based General Mills and its Old El Paso Game Day Taco Kit at Publix for Superbowl LIII in 2019.

“Mexican Import Dos Equis, combined with Old El Paso, provided a Mexican meal solution to shoppers looking for game-day entertaining ideas,” says Jaramillo. “In-store, the pre-packaged taco kit was merchandised with Dos Equis 12-packs for a one-stop-shopping experience that solved a consumer need.”

A display Schurer cites is a self-service sushi case that cross merchandised single-serve refrigerated Japanese wine and beer for impulse beverage sales.

For the coming winter holidays, Heineken will join forces with Itasca, Ill.-based regional chain Jewel-Osco and co-promoter Coca-Cola. “By combining the marketing forces of two powerhouse brands, we will be cutting through the inevitable holiday clutter and adding meaningful value to the retailer during a key selling period,” says Jaramillo.

  • Other examples of creative and effective cross merchandising include:

    • Rochester, N.Y.-based Wegmans Food Markets’ table in the produce department featuring chopped bagged escarole and canned white beans for a vegetarian dinner
    • Sickles Market, a specialty grocer in Little Silver, N.J., offering a two-for-$14 promotion on grill kits and fajita mix, and pre-cut packaged fresh vegetables ready to cook with meat from the butcher counter located nearby
    • Guido’s Fresh Marketplace, a specialty supermarket with two locations in Berkshire County, Mass., creating an eye-catching display of imported pastas and sauces near a self-serve antipasto bar

Ramping Up Performance

While those examples represent some new ideas, savvy retailers are also putting their own unique spins on commonly adopted cross merchandising strategies to give them even more customer impact. 

Displaying specialty cheeses with specialty fruit preserves, specialty crackers, specialty nuts, or artisanal dried sausages and cured meats isn’t new, but the approach has been highly effective in building the basket. “These artisanal and specialty items are usually higher-priced than the same category of items that might be found someplace else in the store, and bringing the products together has helped,” notes Schurer.

Retailers that include high-margin serveware in their displays add another layer. “Hy-Vee offers everything consumers need to put together a charcuterie board, including the board itself, along with serving knives, and the margin on those items is fantastic,” observes Sorensen. 

Sampling is an effective way to spark add-on sales, but when that’s not an option, signage telling consumers which cheese pairs best with a particular fruit, spread, sausage or cracker can add impact to the department. “That’s part of the experience you need to provide to help the consumer with meal planning,” advises Sorensen. “Descriptive signage goes a long way.” 

While displaying heirloom tomatoes with fresh mozzarella cheese and basil is routine, some specialty markets have found ways to go one step beyond. For instance, Guido’s recently sampled its store-made caprese salad at a station where an employee was making the product, and cross merchandised olive oil spread and sliced French bread. 

“Retailers need to take displays to the next level,” asserts Sorensen. “Give [consumers] ideas with pictures and recipes. We can’t assume that just because we put it on display, they know how to prepare and present it.”


Sickle’s Market put a unique spin on the strategy with a display of New Jersey-made products that included store-made mozzarella and farm-fresh basil, along with local-made Fourth Creek Relishes, Booskerdoo Coffee and Outer Limits Hot Sauces, all offered at 20% off during the month of September. 

The store’s clever signage spotlighted the products with a local Bruce Springsteen angle: The Boss was asked to step aside for consumers who were “born to run to Sickles Market this September” to satisfy the cravings of their “hungry hearts.” It was fun, effective and memorable.

Reinforcing messages through social media magnifies the impact of promotions and gets consumers excited about shopping the store.

“Retailers need a great website and should be posting pictures on Instagram and Facebook that get consumers excited,” recommends Schurer. “If rotisserie chicken is on sale, they should be showing the consumer some sides that go well with it.” She adds that Monrovia, Calif.-based Trader Joe’s does a great job using its Insider Report customer newsletter to tell the story of the product and what it pairs well with.

The idea is that retailers should be using all of their consumer touchpoints to cross sell.

“Wegmans’ themed creative meal preparation cross merchandising displays include not only ingredients from multiple departments, but also include GM items like paella pans,” notes Inmar Analytics’ Hertel. “These executions are tied to recipes they feature in their monthly MENU magazine, which is now online and has links to order the items in the recipes.”

GM in the Mix Boosts Appeal

Bringing general merchandise into the mix can raise a retailer’s game even further. “The general merchandise department is a great place to start when thinking about cross merchandising,” asserts Colin Stewart, SVP of business intelligence at Jacksonville, Fla.-based marketing company Acosta.

“Typically, GM products are spread throughout the store, and customers only go looking for items they already planned on buying. By pairing complementary items, such as food with cookware — think cedar planks with seafood or brownie mix with pans — retailers can offer a one-stop shopping experience that makes their customers’ lives easier and increases the likelihood they will buy items that weren’t on their list.

“Some retailers are experimenting with GM clusters to create traffic destinations,” he adds. “Seasonal, for example, always piques customers’ interest, even months early, and provides a platform for a wide variety of product categories, from food-related offerings to decorations and more.”

“A ‘party time’ display with snacks and beverages is even more eye-popping with the addition of colorful signage, paper plates, cups and napkins, serveware, and tear-off recipe ideas,” offers Sorensen.

Cross merchandising meal solutions

Seasonal nonfood items placed at the front of the store are an effective means for promoting products that are top of mind for consumers, according to Mark Mechelse, VP of insights and communications at Colorado Springs, Colo.-based GMDC|Retail Tomorrow. “Christmas is always the most popular season, especially in the grocery store, and these formats should be carrying Christmas memorabilia and décor,” he suggests. “The Christmas season gives retailers a significant sales boost across all nonfood categories.”

Adjacency between kitchenware products and their relevant food items gives basket ring a boost, according to data from GMDC|Retail Tomorrow. “Heightened product adjacency within stores helps retailers to evolve with the consumer mindset, which is now to shop by occasion or need, not category,” says Mechelse. “For physical retailers to remain relevant, it’s critical that they don’t make shoppers hunt across stores, because their time and attention are increasingly limited.”

Retailers are finding creative ways to incorporate GM products. “I might put a panini grill near artisanal breads and cheeses,” says Schurer. “Specialty waffle mixes and fruit would be great with crepe pans and waffle makers.”

Wegmans, for one, has added in yoga clothing and mats near its pharmacy aisles adjacent to supplements. “Among purchases stemming from pharmacy-related trip drivers, customers are typically focused on health,” observes Mechelse. “Retailers can expect to see a significant lift in health, beauty and wellness sales when cross merchandising self care-related products in the pharmacy department.” 

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