Fall produce

Excite Shoppers About the Bounty of Fall Fruits, Vegetables


  • Plan events throughout the fall season for families, and consider the demographics of the area your store serves when planning fall holidays.
  • There’s no better time to sprinkle recipes throughout the produce department than when customers leave the barbecue and head back to the kitchen; also, cornstalks and hay bales used as seasonal decorations can be attractive, but a wide array of colorful new or unusual fruits and vegetables can encourage autumn feasts.
  • New fruits and vegetables should be displayed with information for customers, which is available through wholesalers and suppliers, and will result in greater fall sales.

Autumn is the time of year when most green plants turn brown, and the air can be too nippy to linger outside, depending on where you live. However, it’s also a time of holidays, and not just the big ones like Halloween and Thanksgiving.

There are holiday opportunities to promote and sell fall produce from September to November. This year seems to be the year of the color purple, with purple cauliflower, asparagus and sweet potatoes set to brighten the Thanksgiving table. Plan displays, festivals and samplings to help your customers enjoy fall produce for each holiday and the times in between. 

Celebrate Fall

As fall is the time to “get back to business” and prepare for holidays and winter, how do supermarkets draw customer interest to the tastes of fall produce?

“Many departments will remerchandise so the first thing you see is a massive display of fresh apples and complementary items,” says Maria Brous, director of media and community relations for Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix Super Markets. “We work with our Aprons team to pair items such as cubed butternut squash and spirals in recipes featured during the fall. Our floral departments will have many bouquets transition into seasonal colors.”

Publix’s weekly ad will features apples, hard squash and pumpkins, along with mums, cinnamon brooms, candy apples and cider.

Coborn’s Inc., based in St. Cloud, Minn., has a dietitian team that works with local schools to promote in-season produce. All age groups participate in fruit and veggie taste testing of both common and more unique seasonal produce. These have proved highly popular with kids and their parents, according to Bridget Winkelman, Farmers Market and floral manager at Coborn’s.

Excite Shoppers About the Bounty of Fall Fruits, Vegetables

Autumn in particular can be an exciting time in produce, featuring rarely seen fruits and vegetables and old favorites alike.

“Fall is about quince, persimmons, pomegranates, variety pears and apples,” says Robert Schueller, director of public relations at Melissa’s/World Variety Produce, in Los Angeles. “On the veggie side, there are new-crop potatoes and onions, and winter squash season.”  

New fall produce items this year at Melissa’s include Fioretto or Flowering Cauliflower, Colorful Sugar Snap Peas, Cinnamon Spice Clean Snax, Butterscotch Pears, Green Dragon Apples and Purple Brussels Sprouts. Cinnamon Spice Clean Snax is the 10th variety of a limited-ingredient product line introduced by Melissa’s — a line that especially appeals to Millennials and Gen Z.

Frieda’s Specialty Produce, based in Los Alamitos, Calif., will feature Stokes purple sweet potatoes, colored cauliflower, Meyer lemons, shallots, Cipolline onions and fresh ginger this fall, according to Alex Berkley, sales manager.

Survey Says

In a 2019 survey conducted for Frieda’s in partnership with Chicago-based C+R Research, 66 percent of consumers said that they would “trade up” for unique ingredients when entertaining, especially during the holidays, and 69 percent of consumers said that it would be worth it to splurge on better ingredients during the holidays. 

“Interestingly, 60 percent of consumers said that they are more likely than in the past to include at least one plant-based main dish on their holiday table, so we predict that items like whole roasted colored cauliflower will take off,” Berkley says.

Further, 72 percent of surveyed shoppers said that they’re most likely to use fresh ginger instead of ground ginger, and 63 percent responded that they’re most likely to use shallots instead of onions, while more than half of consumers said that they’d be likely to trade up to Stokes purple sweet potatoes from traditional sweet potatoes, which “fits nicely with the factoid that 64 percent of consumers said they want to include more colorful dishes on their holiday table this year,” Berkley notes.

Trends for fall produce can vary widely based on geographic region, according to Andrew Moberly, director of category solutions at Stamford, Conn.-based Daymon. For this fall, longer-growth-cycle crops are just being harvested and long-ignored items are regaining popularity, such as parsnips, kohlrabi, sunchokes and squashes.

“The real win is introducing these items to customers with a cooking technique — nontraditional or traditional — as many of these items are unfamiliar to shoppers like Millennials,” Moberly notes. Another growing trend is to consider produce that is meat-substitute friendly, as more consumers are cooking meals without a traditional protein in stews and braises.

S-G-S Produce recommends keeping variety high during the fall season. “Offering a variety of hard squashes in the same area gives customers a glimpse of how beautiful their table or mantel can be,” says Talia Shandler, VP at Los Angeles-based S-G-S. Offering usage suggestions for Castilla and pumpkin squashes gives customers more incentive to buy multiple types of squashes along with other produce, justifying a more expensive purchase, she notes.   

While squash and exotics are fun for the holidays, colorful apples are a fall staple and can’t be overlooked for the season, Shandler warns, and the fruit’s new varieties make for a colorful and attractive produce department.

“Featuring a new variety of apple each week keeps it fresh and consumers increasing their purchases,” she observes. “While apples are traditional, we also see exotic fruit as being great to use for [decorations] and then transition to eating.”

For instance, Shandler notes that green and gold Italian kiwi fruits, which reach their peak during fall, are “as sweet as can be.” 

A Calendar of Fall Produce

There are as many holidays during fall as in summer, including that blockbuster occasion, Thanksgiving. Follow this calendar of holidays and fall produce to harvest more sales:

  • LABOR DAY: SEPT. 2, 2019

    Labor Day? Sure, it’s a holiday, but how does fall produce fit into this day of leisure? Actually, fall produce and barbecues are a perfect combination. Many consumers plan barbecues and picnics for Labor Day. Almost any vegetable or fruit can be grilled, from corn to asparagus, cauliflower to Brussels sprouts, zucchini to potatoes. Just use your imagination and pick some veggies.

    Hatch chile peppers, named for the original growing area in Hatch, N.M., are great when roasted and added to salads, soups, dips and sandwiches. Los Angeles-based Melissa’s/World Variety Produce even has a cookbook with recipes for this one pepper. Hatch peppers have mild to medium heat, making them the pepper to use in chile con queso, chile rellenos and chile verde. Try an in-store indoor or outdoor barbecue before Labor Day, using produce that will attract customer attention and purchases. Customers may be reluctant to buy dragon fruit or other new produce items, but they may love them if they sample them, so provide that impetus for them to purchase such items.

  • National Hispanic Heritage Month: Sept. 15-Oct. 15, 2019

    When you stock up for National Hispanic Heritage Month, you may discover that Hispanic customers aren’t the only ones purchasing traditional Latino items. Specialty food companies offer a wide variety of dried chiles, tamales, guacamole and salsa kits, as well as such items as red Caribbean papaya, cactus pear, chayote squash and tatuma squash.

    This is a good time to have recipes available and sampling when possible.
    A mini festival during this heritage month can be an attraction for customers. Music, samples, decorations (for sale) and recipes can attract customers and lead to sales.

  • Rosh Hashanah: Sundown Sept. 30-Nightfall Oct. 1, 2019

    The Jewish new year features many traditional foods that involve produce and can be highlighted in the department. Culinary traditions include eating lots of honey, apples, quince, pomegranates and other seasonal fruits to symbolize the year ahead. Vegetables for the festival include leeks and onions, potatoes and parsnips, horseradish, celery root, and kohlrabi, in addition to several types of squash. Displays and signage pointing out the important produce elements of Rosh Hashanah can be helpful to customers.

  • Halloween: Oct. 31, 2019

    Spooky television shows and movies are more popular than ever. Try a frightful produce end cap for Halloween, and scare up more sales. In 2018, 175 million people celebrated Halloween, spending $9 billion — a new record, according to the National Retail Federation Annual Survey. Spending per person was $86.79, another new record, the survey additionally found. 

    Melissa’s has promoted “Freaky Fruit” for several years, using jackfruit, Buddha’s hand, dragon fruit and rambutan. Arranging the fruit to look like a cemetery with accompanying monsters is easy and draws customer attention and sales. Melissa’s website has directions near Halloween.

    “At S-G-S, we believe in zero waste and using everything first as decorations and then eating it,” says Talia Shandler, VP of the Los Angeles-based wholesale produce company S-G-S Produce, whose initials stand for Shapiro-Gilman-Shandler. “We call it ‘table-to-table.’”

    Halloween ideas for consumers that can be first displayed in the produce department include making a “kiwi creature,” and then cutting it up for a colorful treat; putting googly eyes on a dragon fruit, and then later slicing it into a cool cocktail salad; transforming a jackfruit into a monster, and then enjoying it either raw or cooked; and fashioning rambutan into creepy dragon eyes for parties. 

  • Thanksgiving: Nov. 28, 2019

    Turkey Day comes later in the year, expanding the sales period, but also demanding that produce departments stay fresh, full and inviting to customers for a longer time frame. This year, pre-sliced, -chopped and -measured produce items should be even more popular, given the number of them available. 

    Fresh herbs will spike in sales this year, according to Melissa’s Schueller. While some customers will want small packets of fresh herbs, others will want larger sizes such as those offered by Melissa’s Spice Grinders. The company offers peeled and steamed chestnuts, and also butternut squash. Shallots, boiler onions and pearl onions will be popular, with organic green beans and baby Dutch yellow potatoes rounding out the list. 

    As consumers become more aware of recycling, S-G-S Produce has ideas for using fruits and vegetables first as Thanksgiving decorations and then for consumption. For the festive table, centerpieces of hard squash are decorative and reduce the need for temporary paper decorations. 

    “The tan Castilla squash, also called Fairytale pumpkin squash, along with its cousins, the blue Jarrahdale pumpkin squash and the orange Cinderella squash, make the perfect trifecta for the dinner table,” Shandler observes. After the holiday, Castilla squash can be baked or candied for a sweet healthy treat, or any of the three can be roasted or added to soups or stews. Pre-decorated pumpkins are all the rage, she also notes, and can be enlivened with painted faces or a stenciled message of welcome, resulting in great table centerpieces.

    The upshot is that fall holidays can be fun, with produce varieties ranging from traditional orange pumpkins to purple sweet potatoes, the latter of which would be the key ingredient in an eye-catching seasonal pie.

About the Author

D. Gail Fleenor

D. Gail Fleenor is a contributing editor at Progressive Grocer.

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