(From Produce Business magazine) – Produce sales tie-ins are not exactly a new idea.
Historians report that merchants in marketplaces sold fruit right next to nuts, bread and other favorites to grab the ancient equivalent of a double-ring from customers.
The question isn’t whether tie-ins help sell more fresh fruit – they clearly can, but whether there are larger co-marketing opportunities out there because of evolving demographics.
Supermarkets are using quality fresh produce to differentiate themselves in a crowded marketplace as consumers continue the quest for cooking solutions, convenience and “free-from” formulations anybody in the family can eat.
Whether referred to as “companion products,” “complementary products,” or “tie-ins,” non-produce PLUs can include dressings, caramel dips, pie shells, shortcakes, crepes, angel food cakes, glazes, and chocolate, yogurt or cheese dips.
Proximity still rules, like keeping the caramel dip next to the Granny Smith apples, but location can matter more, experts say. Seasonal free-standing displays are more likely to catch the attention of shoppers, especially regulars who follow a familiar, rapid route through the store. Placing strawberries with glaze, shortcake, sponge cakes, glaze and canned whipped cream where shopper encounter it face-on invites an impulse buy.
The fruit companion product tent has expanded in number and types of products in the past decade to feature banana bread and other mixes, smoothie mixes, and a wide range of good-for-you snacks formerly seen mainly in the natural foods stores. Companies are introducing new companion products from snacks to dips as well as fresh display and marketing approaches.
Crepes, berries perceived as healthier dessert option
Melissa’s Produce has had long term success with tie-ins including crepes which have been on produce department shelves for 25 years.
“Tie-ins increase sales in the produce department or they wouldn’t be there. Retailers have reported to us 10 percent to 20 percent increases in sales in the berry category and higher during promotions with tie-ins,” said Robert Schueller, Director of Public Relations at the Vernon CA–based distributor of produce and companion products.
Schueller ticked off the reasons tie-ins are attractive including guaranteed sales, typically a much higher markup than fruit, and much less perishable. However, not all tie-ins have the durability of Melissa’s Crepes. “There have been some companion products that have just fizzled after a while. One is those vegetable washing sprays that became popular after a produce safety issue came up. Consumers realized that they didn’t really need the spray to clean their produce,” he said.
However, overall health concerns are driving consumers toward fresh fruit. “Crepes and sauce displayed next to the berries are perceived as a lighter healthier option than a lot of other desserts,” he said.
Melissa’s introduced a new kind of companion product called Clean Snax three years ago. The shelf-stable bite-sized squares of chia and flaxseed lightly sweetened with honey are gluten free, low-fat, low-sodium and contain no artificial ingredients.
“This is the third year we are carrying Clean Snax and they have only gotten more popular. We just added a fifth flavor, cranberry, to go with the coconut, pepitas, quinoa and almond flavors,” Shueller said.
“Clean Snax are not placed in the granola or snack bar supermarket aisle even though the ingredients are similar. Granola is no longer see by consumers as being really healthy.”
A lot of new products vying for attention in the produce department where retail produce executives are naturally possessive about their floor and shelf space and devoting it to slower selling non-produce items.
How snacks produce a double ring
Tropical Fruit and Nut is a manufacturer and packer roasted nuts and dried fruits that started out as a bulk foods distributor and now supplies major supermarket chains. “We have a tub program for supermarkets where we put in snacks, nuts, seeds, dried fruit and candy,” said Chad Hartman, Director of Marketing of Charlotte N.C.-based company.
Tropical Fruit and Nut Co.’s items include everything from wasabi-coated peanuts to probiotic yogurt raisins and goji berries but one of the fastest selling item is Dip N Devour, a line of chocolate-flavored coatings in Milk, Dark and White flavors in resealable, microwavable containers.
Like similar meltable dips the product is typically pictured with strawberries or bananas, but consumers also dip in dried fruit. “My favorite to dip in the Milk Dip & Devour is dried pineapple; apricots are great, too,” Hartman said.
The newest addition to the Dip & Devour line is Peanut Butter Melts for celery, apples or bananas (and perhaps an occasional cookie).
“The Peanut Butter Dip & Devour has been a much tougher sell because it’s new and unfamiliar, but anytime we can do an active demo program with a microwave in stores it sells all day long,” he said. Hartman added that sampling tends to happen at store grand openings or customer appreciation days.
“In terms of promotion, the thing that drives customers to the fruit the most is an IPR (item price reduction) on the shelf and in-store signage.”
Digital and mobile advertising has become essential in reaching younger consumers. “What we try to do is show the product and how easy it is to use in videos, Instagram and Twitter,” Hartman said.
He has seen displays with two rows of strawberries in clamshells with a row of dip & Devour up the middle but one store’s approach caught his eye. “The most effective marketing I’ve seen was strawberries and Dip & Devour wrapped in the same package by one retailer. The double ring is automatic,” he said.
The least effective approach? “The moment they put it under the end table near the potatoes it’s over. It stops selling,” Hartman said.
Expanding palate sparks new flavors
“The American palate is expanding to include more exotic fruits and ethnic tastes,” said Margi Gunter, Brand Manager at Litehouse Foods.
The Sandpoint ID-based makers of refrigerated dressings, dessert dips and crumbled Blue, Gorgonzola and Feta cheeses recently launched OPA Greek Yogurt dressings in the pourable format in five flavors including fruit-friendly Strawberry Poppyseed and Curry.
“With new pairings like fruit with a savory dressing like our OPA Curry Greek Yogurt dressing the key is to have the consumer taste it. Curry is a flavor that can be kind of scary but this is very mild and goes so well with tropical fruits like mango,” she said.
In order to support effective sampling, Lighthouse ships demo kits to the demo companies. “Even if we aren’t partnering with a produce company we always have the demo company buy their fruit from the store,” Gunter said.
“We had the greatest consumer reaction to demos by just hulling fresh strawberries and putting a dollop of Opadipity Creamy Cheesecake or Vanilla Almond in the center. Consumers could see the easy two-step process and kids were clamoring for more. Moms were quick to comply because who wouldn’t give their child more fruit?” Gunter said, adding that she is a working mom.
She isn’t kidding: Gunter has 5-year-old triplets. “When I pack lunches for them I give them cut fresh fruit with a light coating of Strawberry Poppy Seed Dressing. They really like it,” she said.
Lighthouse co-promotes its dips and dressings with fruit on sale in the produce department. “By purchasing our product, consumers can get $1 off their bananas or strawberries. It incentivizes them to try our product and get discounts on produce they already buy. Consumers who try the product tend to become repeat buyers,” she said.
Apple Kale Smoothie Mix a stealth seller
Concord Foods has marketed fresh produce companion products since the 1960s, said Samantha McCaul, Marketing Manager of Brockton MA-based company. Concord’s top products by unit sales in 2015 were Guacamole Mix, Smoothie Mix, Apple Crisp Mix and Caramel Apple Wrap.
Some products are perennial winners like Concord’s Chiquita Banana Bread Mix. “Bananas are such a high volume item in a lot of homes that they often have overly ripe fruit. So the Banana Bread Mix sells all year round and is much less of an impulse buy,” McCaul said.
Concord’s familiar Smoothie Mix flavors – Banana, Strawberry and Chocolate Banana were joined two years ago by a new variety that was a bit of an experiment. “We didn’t know how it would go with Kale and Apple Smoothie Mix. That is one of those products that really crept up on us steadily and now it’s selling very well. You add one cup of kale, an apple, ice and water and blend it,” McCaul said.
Concord offers a 140-pack shipper display unit of Smoothie Mixes that can fit next to the kale or Granny Smith apples. “Instantly redeemable coupon promotions have energized sales on smoothie mixes and Chiquita Banana Bread Mix. We have close to a 30 percent redemption rate from our 2015 offer,” McCaul said. Concord also ran a recipe contest with California Giant to support sales of its Blueberry Muffin Mix.
“We have research that shows that 65 percent of shoppers that buy Concord Foods Banana Smoothie Mix also purchase bananas at the same time,” she said.
Concord’s newest product is spot-on trend-wise.
“We have a new, apple-related product launching this year called Simply Concord Caramel Dip for apples, pears and other sliced fruits,” she said. The clean label product has a handful of recognizable ingredients, no artificial flavors and is non-GMO. McCaul added that the dip tastes “fantastically good.”
It’s good news for anyone who sells fruit. Shoppers’ definition of “healthy” has evolved beyond simply free from the bad stuff.
“When consumers are interested in indulging in an occasional treat they want to know it is made from the best real ingredients,” she said.
John Lehndorff hosts Radio Nibbles on KGNU-FM. Listen to a podcast at news.kgnu.org/category/features/radio-nibbles/