Grocers Show How to Wow with Produce

Powerful promotions and creatively executed displays drive sales of summer produce at grocery chains like Rouses Supermarkets.

“We call it ‘theater,’” says Kerry Adams, produce buyer for the Thibodaux, La.-based retailer. “So much of summer produce sales are impulse purchases. We need to do everything we can to call attention to produce and bring the consumer over to the display.”

Rouses has found that its most successful promotions in fresh produce are those that include a contest for produce managers. “Display contests drive more excitement in the category and create buzz,” asserts Adams. “Our produce managers are highly competitive, so we like to stir the pot and make it fun.”

The grocery chain, which has more than 40 stores in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, runs regular display contests, particularly when there’s a change in seasons. Summer means stone fruit and grilling promotions.

Cross-promotion is key to Rouses’ summer grilling displays. “What can you do to get a produce item into a buggy that wasn’t on the shopping list?” Adams asks. “That’s what it’s all about.”

Rouses awards display contest prizes to the produce manager with the highest percentage of sales increase relative to store sales. This affords produce managers at smaller stores an equal opportunity to win. Creativity is also honored. Produce managers submit photos of their displays, and Rouses’ farmer and grower partners vote on the most creative execution.

This summer, Rouses’ produce managers will compete in a cherry display contest. “We bring growers into the store as well,” says Adams. “Customers want to make that connection with the farm.”

Brianna Shales, communications manager for Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers, agrees. Later this month, Stemilt will introduce 5 River Islands, a new brand of late-season premium-quality cherries from the California Delta region. Only the highest-quality and largest cherries from the region will be sold under the brand.

Where the fruit originates “is something that consumers want to know, and we’ve found it really resonates with shoppers through the success of our A Half Mile Closer to the Moon cherry program and Kyle’s Pick product line,” she affirms.

When it comes to cherry merchandising, it’s important to maximize sales during key promotional windows, advises Shales: “Cherries are an impulse purchase — they rarely appear on someone’s shopping list — so they must be displayed in a high-traffic area in order to capture sales.”

Grate Expectations

According to the 2016 Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA) “Barbecue Lifestyle, Usage and Attitude Study,” 45 percent of U.S. adults plan to purchase a new grill or smoker in 2017, 75 percent already own a grill, and 30 percent plan to do more grilling this year.

With enthusiasm for grilling at an all-time high, and fresh produce a natural tie-in to summer barbecues, MountainKing Potatoes, based in Houston, is preparing to reprise its highly successful Get Grilling campaign this year.

“We build on it each year,” says John Pope, VP of sales and marketing for MountainKing. In 2017, produce managers will vie to create the best displays, for the chance to win a Weber grill.

MountainKing has created a variety of colorful point-of-sale materials, from potato bins designed to look like gas grills to bag tags that promote preheating potatoes in the microwave before finishing them on the grill. “We coined the term ‘8-minute grilling,’” notes Pope, who says that the combination of microwave and grill preparation makes for deliciously textured potatoes.

Grocers can use the grill bins to cross-merchandise potatoes with peppers, onions, corn, mushrooms and more.

“The campaign is about building excitement around potatoes in the warmer months,” explains Pope, who adds that one-third of all meals at home include fresh potatoes of some sort. “We’ve also had a lot of buy-in from protein departments that cross-promote meat, poultry and seafood with different potato varieties.”

Get Grilling has grown each year, with grocers increasingly ordering more product and POS. “What really drives grocery store profit are events,” enthuses Pope. “Grilling is a huge deal, and grilled potatoes are such a magnet for other items.”

Berry Bonanza

Few things capture the sweetness of summer like berries. Driven by a steady stream of positive press trumpeting the health benefits of the fruit, berry sales remain strong.

“Most everything is driven by social media these days, and berries are no different,” says Jim Grabowski, director of marketing for Well-Pict, in Watsonville, Calif. “There are countless sources touting the health benefits of berries. It’s driving berry sales, particularly with younger consumers.”

To keep berries top of mind in summer, when stone fruits and melons are at the peak of season, Grabowski recommends merchandising displays that employ a “berry patch concept.”

“Create a one-stop shop by merchandising strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries all together,” he advises. Recipes for desserts, snacks and salads made with berries can also be useful sales tools.

“Successful retailers are using large displays that feature a full assortment of sizes and berry varieties,” notes Grabowski, who has also seen an uptick in sales of value-added, convenient berry items.

Mushroom Boom

The Mushroom Council, in San Jose, Calif., is once again teaming with the New York-based James Beard Foundation on the Blended Burger Project, which encourages restaurants and retailers to blend mushrooms into unique burgers and feature them on their menus between Memorial Day and July 31.

More than 2 million consumers voted in last year’s Blended Burger Project, according to the Mushroom Council’s Kathleen Preis. In retail sales, total mushroom sales dollars increased by 3.7 percent for the 13-week promotion period.

While a small number of retailers participated in last year’s campaign, the council is looking forward to greater participation in 2017 as retailers become more familiar with the Blend.

“We are seeing more and more innovative grocerant concepts at stores around the country, where the Blend and an association with a Tames Beard Foundation campaign can help upscale their menus while offering delicious and sustainable burgers to their customers,” explains Preis.

To inspire food professionals and consumers to blend mushrooms into their dishes, the council has launched a Blenditarian consumer website.

Retailers wishing to participate in the Project can visit For resources on how to incorporate the Blend at retail, see

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds