Win produce to win fresh for the holidays

December 03, 2013

Hams and turkeys earn oohs and aahs, but fruits and vegetables are holiday mainstays supermarkets must win.

Produce is a compass for households in the holiday season, both nutritionally and visually.   While moms may suspend some of their dietary disciplines for entertainment occasions—perhaps by allowing more sweets at home—they don’t bend the rules for routine meals in the last two months of the year.  Cold weather is setting in, the rigors of school and work continue, and produce serves as a more important nutritional foundation.

Holiday tables gain festivity from the vivid colors of fruits and vegetables.  And produce fiber helps to fill people up before the desserts come out.

Research by The Lempert Report for the National Grocers Association documents that produce largely determines store choice.  It also sets the tone for fresh food sales in supermarkets.  Data from Nielsen Perishables Group show that fresh foods account for 32% of food sales during Christmas week (more than the 30% annual average).  For all these reasons—nutrition and presentation for families, store choice and trips for retailers—produce is the keystone to supermarket success this time of year.

Ways to win:

  • Emphasize bananas, potatoes, onions, tomatoes and packaged salad, since 82% or more of U.S. households buy these staples year-round, says NPG. 
  • Also merchandise and promote these foods that index high in Christmas week—celery (1.4x likelier to buy), citrus (1.3x), potatoes (1.2x), adds NPG.

Moreover, produce packers are finding ways to protect quality/safety and improve presentation of fruits and vegetables. According to a new report by The Freedonia Group, demand for produce packaging could reach $5.7 billion in 2017.  Plastic containers will grow the fastest, driven by berry production and more applications for clamshells with whole and convenient fresh-cut, ready-to-eat produce.  Stand-up pouches will also gain wider use because they have visual appeal and save costs.

Meanwhile, marketers are tying fruits and vegetables to licensed characters to add kid appeal and please moms who want more wholesome snacks available.  Ad Age reports that Marvel, Disney and others are pushing the trend, and that major retailers are starting to test and commit.

Such initiatives will attempt to drive more produce demand in ways that have worked for center-store merchandise.