Skip to main content

Pairing Perfectly with Produce


Categories within fresh produce, from avocados to tomatoes to onions, can be strong sellers own their own, but put them together in a colorful display complete with tempting, easy-to-prepare recipes, and sales will surge.

“Cross-merchandising always has been a great tool, but I think its importance has increased,” affirms Tom Wheeler, director of produce operations for Mollie Stone’s Markets, a family and locally owned grocer with nine stores in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“It’s really about building an idea in the consumer’s mind of how they might use the product,” he adds, “and it’s critical to reaching the younger-generation consumer. Millennials are super-experimental, but they didn’t have home economics [in school] like we did.”

Some of Mollie Stone’s most successful cross-promotions to date were achieved with the support of the California Avocado Commission (CAC), based in Irvine.

“We’ve worked with the CAC for quite a few years, and it’s been a huge success for us,” notes Wheeler, who points to Super Bowl-themed California avocado promotions, a Hatch chiles-and-avocado cross-promotion, and another for Cinco de Mayo.

“Cinco de Mayo was probably the biggest success we’ve had with a cross-promotion,” he says. “We saw a massive increase in sales year over year.” The promotion featured California avocados, Mollie Stone’s in-house guacamole, its private label tortilla chips, and more — all conveniently merchandised together for customers to grab and go.

“Cross-merchandising definitely increases sales,” Wheeler continues. “You can eat an avocado by itself, but it goes a lot better with other things. It’s a nucleus for building a bigger basket.”

Mollie Stone’s supports its promotions with in-store signage and through social media and recipes on its website.

Whether it’s a simple cheese-and-apples pairing or a caprese salad promotion with mozzarella, basil, heirloom tomatoes and Mollie Stone’s private label olive oil, the grocer sees value in frequent cross-promotions — so much so that Mollie Stone’s recently hired a marketing person to help develop its cross-merchandising plans throughout the year.

Advancing Avocados

In the 18 years that VP of Marketing Jan DeLyser has been with the CAC, the commission has put together hundreds of successful cross-promotions. While each had its merits, DeLyser says there are two key elements that are consistent throughout the most successful examples.

“First, the program must be supported by and be turnkey for the retailer,” she asserts. “Second, the partner products need to make sense together and fit the brand communication.”

While promotions featuring California avocados and tomatoes or fresh-cut salads are natural pairings, spicing things up can also be effective.

“A late-summer cross-promotion with Melissa’s Hatch chiles last year generated a lot of excitement,” recalls DeLyser. “Sometimes a unique idea can bring together two products that may not seem to have a natural fit, and create a successful pairing, such as when we promoted the idea of serving guacamole in a hollowed-out watermelon for the Fourth of July.”

The watermelon and avocado cross-promotion had a “wow factor” for consumers, she says.

Capitalizing on hot trends in avocado usage, from sushi to avocado toast to creative avocado cuts such as ribbons, are also valuable promotional tools, notes DeLyser.

“Retailers can showcase these in ads, social media, demos and via the deli,” she suggests. “Seasonal ideas are an opportunity to bring on the green, such as Big Game spreads, avocado shamrock cutouts for St. Patrick’s Day and avocado deviled eggs for Easter.”

Salad Savings

Shoppers love to save, so pricing is a powerful component of successful cross-promotions in produce.

San Antonio-based NatureSweet reports that one of its most successful cross-promotional partnerships has been its Better Together salad promotion with Fresh Gourmet Baked Cheese Crisps. The program offers consumers substantial savings.

Cross-merchandising the salad pairing outside of the produce department has also contributed to the program’s success.

“Getting our NatureSweet tomatoes to the center store helps to increase basket size for retailers, and is a convenient reminder of fresh ingredients for consumers,” says Brand Manager Lori Castillo.

Repositioning Pistachios

While pistachios have been successfully cross-promoted with beer as a game-day snacking sensation for years, Joseph Setton, of Setton Farms, in Commack, N.Y., is encouraging retail partners to look at new ways of promoting these nutritious and delicious nuts.

“Over the last several years, pistachios are increasingly being promoted as a great-tasting healthy snack. We see pistachios frequently promoted with bottled water and vegetables,” observes Setton, who adds that Setton Farms’ pistachios and pistachio-based products, like its new Chewy Bites, now carry the American Heart Association Heart Healthy checkmark.

Setton Farms is also reaching out to kids and their families with regular cross-promotions of pistachios alongside fruits and vegetables through the Orlando, Fla.-based nonprofit organization Produce for Kids.

Further, for easy cross-promotions anywhere in the store, Setton Farms offers a quarter-pallet bin. “Our pistachio bin is all inclusive for retailers,” he says. “They can just roll it out on the floor, so there’s no labor involved.”

Holiday Delights

While many grocers, including Mollie Stone’s, use cross-promotions to drive produce sales throughout the year, Wheeler admits that the produce department really ramps up on cross-merchandising during the holidays.

“Cross-merchandising is very important during holidays and special sporting events,” agrees Sarah Deaton, of Zespri Kiwifruit North America, in Newport Beach, Calif. “Retailers can place all of the ingredients for appetizers and cocktails together to help promote healthy party foods and drinks.”

Zespri Kiwifruit is extending the availability of Zespri SunGold and Green Kiwifruit through the winter for the first time. Previously, Zespri was available only from May through October.

“The extended availability of high-quality fruit is important as consumer demand increases,” says Deaton. “This demand is driven by consumer education about the health benefits of kiwifruit, as well as discovering just how tasty a premium-quality kiwifruit can be.”

Zespri has developed many kiwifruit-centric recipes, from appetizers, entrees and desserts to breakfast items and lunches, as well as cocktails and drinks. Deaton recommends that grocers include recipe cards at the point of purchase.

“It’s important to include educational POS that shows consumers how to eat Zespri Kiwifruit, as well as how to choose and store it,” adds Deaton, who further notes that offering kiwifruit by the pound helps to increase sales.

Meal Makers

This year’s Produce Marketing Association (PMA) Fresh Summit, held in Orlando, featured an array of products ripe for cross-promotion. Among them were a host of on-trend, meal-ready vegetables that offer consumers the flavor and convenience they crave.

At the show, Coral Gables, Fla.-based Del Monte Fresh Produce introduced fresh, ready-to-cook Del Monte Vegetable Noodles in Zucchini, Yellow Squash, Sweet Potato and Butternut Squash varieties.

“Our vegetable noodles align perfectly with the recent consumer trend focusing on healthy alternatives to pastas and other carb-heavy products,” says Dionysios Christou, VP of marketing.

“This versatile new product line also allows for ample cross-promotional opportunities, especially since they can be enjoyed as both hot and cold dishes,” continues Christou, who suggests cross-merchandising with complementary products such as pasta sauces, other vegetables, seasonings, protein, and ethnic-cuisine sauces and spices.

“They also make excellent cold salads; thus, cross-merchandising with salad dressings and other fresh ingredients such as tomatoes, avocados, cucumbers and olives would work well,” he adds.

Meanwhile, Melissa’s Produce, in St. Vernon, Calif., showcased its Ready to Cook Vegetables at the PMA Fresh Summit.

The line of fresh specialty baby vegetables in 1-pound retail packages offers a convenient ready-to-cook dish, serving two to three people.

“We will continue to extend the line with items like Butternut Noodles and Zucchini Noodles in the coming months,” notes Robert Schueller, director of public relations.

Cause-related Cross-promotions

Responsibly cultivated produce that’s better for the environment and farm workers was another top trend at the recent PMA show. Wholesum Harvest, of Nogales, Ariz., displayed new Fair Trade signage that offers participating retailers a simple and effective way to communicate the complex message of Fair Trade Certified produce with shoppers.

“PMA proved to be a huge Fair Trade success for us, reassuring us that our customers care, and that they are hearing that consumers care how their products are sourced,” affirms Marketing Manager Jessie Gunn. “The POP helped them visualize the message, and helped them understand how to help their customers understand.”

All Wholesum farm-grown produce is available in Fair Trade versions for retailers willing to share in the responsibility of fair sourcing. For retailers building a cross-promotion with Fair Trade Certified produce, Gunn recommends communicating the direct correlation of the premium to the benefit.

“We turn tomatoes into school buses.” “We turn bell peppers into soccer fields.” “We turn cucumbers into playgrounds.” These are messages that will resonate with consumers.

Wholesum, which helps its partner growers become Fair Trade Certified farms, expects that in the near future, all of its product could be 100 percent Fair Trade purchases.

All in the Family

With its highly visible brands, including Pom Wonderful juices, Wonderful Pistachios and Wonderful Pom Poms, The Wonderful Co., based in Los Angeles, offers a range of items that can be seamlessly cross-merchandised.

“Awareness of the Pom brand is higher than ever before,” says a Pom Wonderful representative. “We want to leverage this excitement and awareness of Pom and get consumers to embrace our products by reminding them about the nutritional benefits of our Pom Poms Fresh Arils through advertising, in-store displays, online promotions, PR, and cross-merchandising efforts across our family of products.”

Additionally, since Pom Poms Fresh Arils are in season for only a short period of time, creating a sense of urgency in cross-promotions can spur sales.

“Pom is uniquely positioned in the produce department to cross-sell our family of products, and consumers identify packaged goods sold in produce as fresh and healthy food,” notes the Pom Wonderful rep. “When Pom Poms ready-to-eat fresh pomegranate arils cross-promote with Pom 100% Juice, consumers can bundle the two products for a grab-and-go breakfast or a healthy snack.”

Going Bananas

In an effort to convert light and medium consumers of bananas to frequent customers, Chiquita North America implemented two highly successful cross-promotions through its partnership with Universal Studios and the sequels of two of the highest-grossing animated films in U.S. history: “Despicable Me 2” in 2013 and “Minions” in 2015.

“The two campaigns were designed to drive consumer engagement and impulse buying to incite higher banana purchase frequency,” explains Suyapa Mansilla, global business strategy manager for Cincinnati-based Chiquita.

The campaigns were supported by a microsite,; advertising; radio; social media campaigns; and in-store POS.

According to Chiquita, its retailer partners that fully executed the promotions saw an 8.3-to-11.6 percentage point advantage in volume growth per store per week over their competitive markets or control stores.

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds