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In the Trenches: Merchandising berries — past, present, future

There was a time in the past when strawberries were the only dominant berry available in a supermarket. In fact, they were primarily seasonal during spring and summer. Blueberries were also seasonable in the spring and summer. Raspberries were rarely handled by supermarkets mainly because of low supply, high cost and very short shelf life. But those days are long gone and berries today have grown into a major category that continues to expand.Berry-Display-1

Besides popular strawberries, blueberries, red raspberries and blackberries, there are many more varieties that could someday join the club. Such berries include elderberries, jostaberries, kotataberries, chehalem berries, cloudberries, dewberries, pineberries, tayberries and thimbleberries. Imagine the berry section having up to 20 varietals of all colors of berries. It would be awesome.

The berry trend has been dramatically climbing in sales over the past several years. In fact, the berry category alone led the top 10 fruits with 18.1 percent of total fruit dollar sales in 2016, according to Statista.

There are many reasons for the berry category escalation in recent years. First off, the availability of product has been made possible by the growth of global imports. Blueberries, raspberries and blackberries from South America have filled winter gaps, which were once left vacant. Berries are now primarily available to consumers year-round.

Packaging has made a tremendous difference in berry sales increases. The development of the plastic clamshell allowed retailers to always have full displays by eliminating the tedious labor of processing the former pints and quarts at the stores. Clamshells are fast and easy stocking. They can be stacked for greater display volume.    

Advertising is instrumental in moving massive amounts of berries coupled with smart merchandising. Both generate a hefty boost to sales and growth of the entire category. The best promoting strategy is in moving a combination of mix and match berry packages along with multiple volume sizes. The objective is to encourage consumer purchases of more than just one unit.

Jay Schneider, director of produce for Acme Markets in Malvern, PA, said, “It all starts with space to sales. The best success I have had with berries is a BOGO mix and match on the front feature table. At times, I would have all four going on this promo — blackberries, blueberries, strawberries and raspberries.

Customers cannot get enough berries. The mix and match allows customers to add variety to their purchase, even if it is just two to three varieties that are advertised. Also, when there is a price break and shippers need to move some fruit, I will go with “spot buys” on larger packs — two-pound or three-pound strawberries or two-pound blueberries. Can never get enough, as the lift in sales is rewarding.”

Sales must be consistent  in order to achieve budget challenges. Therefore, retailers nowadays prefer produce items to be made available on a 52-week program with suppliers in order to eliminate gaps between seasons. Berries have become such a demanding category that shoppers expect to purchase them on every visit to the store throughout the year.     

“In addition, year round I will keep eight to 12 feet of a front side for refrigerated berries,” Schneider added. “Organic sales are picking up now versus past years and now needs expanded space. Increased production in Mexico has started to close some gaps between western fruit and Florida production to help.

“I advertise them as often as possible on the front cover, because customers can never get enough berries,” he said.

Here are four simple basics that can spark berry sales to greater heights:

  • Permanent location — The trend today is a refrigerated case near the produce department entrance fully stocked with all berry varieties. This directs customers to a fixed spot for purchasing berries on each trip to the store.  
  • Variety — Offer customers more choices. There are more varieties that will enter the scene in the near future. Pursue them.
  • Consistency — Have a supply of all berries stocked every day and year round. Be professional and display packages evenly. Face all the labels forward.
  • Promotion — Advertise berries periodically, but avoid evolving  them into a low price image. Berries are an exquisite produce category. Shoppers will buy them on impulse if the quality is superior and your display is well stocked and maintained. Play them up during holidays such as Easter and Mother’s Day.

Growers and universities have done an outstanding job developing  improved berry varieties and taste. Retailers are carrying the ball further with some exceptional presentations and promotions at the store level. Together, this type of teamwork has raised the bar in the berry industry.