Editor's Note: This column first ran leading up to the Produce Marketing Association's Fresh Summit, but if you didn't catch it the first time, make sure to read through it now for holiday and fall merchandising information.

October is typically a time when produce retailers start executing their well-crafted holiday plans for promotions that run Thanksgiving through Christmas and New Year’s.

It’s smart business sense to keep the eye on holiday goals, but don’t overlook some of the less obvious opportunities to increase sales leading up to and including two of the most food-centric holidays of the year.

How? Go beyond the expected.

As I mentioned in September’s column, October is National Apple Month. Everything is apple, apple, apple. And these days, it seems like there are more apple varieties than John Chapman (aka Johnny Appleseed) could have ever imagined.

Promotion and pricing of apples

Apples are a great promotion driver, and retailers can differentiate if they plan a promotion calendar to highlight different apples, their flavor profiles and uses. To raise the value of apples, communicate what’s different and unique about each.

Also, think about the right amount to offer of each variety, and whether to sell in bulk, in traffic areas as impulse buys, or trayed. Selling apples by tote is all the rage in retail today. Totes add a farmer’s market feel that customers love, and totes increase the ring which retailers love. It’s a win-win!


Speaking with my retailer hat on, we can often be too quick to commoditize items by lowering or line pricing the apple category simply for ease of price management.

With so many club variety apples now available, retailers align with growers to be “exclusive” and to create other special promotional plans. This is where the merchant side of a retailer comes into play.

In the process, the retail price becomes less of the attractor, and value through special offerings and unique packaging takes center stage.

Promotions bring in consumers for sure, but how to keep them coming back to the category all season long? If retail prices are lowered too much for a promotion, consumers can suffer sticker shock when prices return to normal, which can impact nonpromotional purchases. To encourage repeat purchases, keep the balance between promotional and regular pricing in mind when planning promotions.

The whole store can get in on apple promotions. The bakery is an obvious department to collaborate with, but produce managers can also work with the meat department to cross promote apples for use in sausages, turkey filling and more.

Think outside the box. Apples can be used a thousand different ways, and as part of probably nearly as many occasions.

Consider the kind of promotions retailers have done with Hatch chilis – with some using the roasting process as food theater. It’s a great way to engage, inform, entertain and convert customers. Why not try the same with apples? We all know the Cosmic Crisp is coming. I’m intrigued to see what kinds of promotions retailers come up with.

Living in Delaware the past four years, we became huge fans of apple cider donuts, and this time of year you can’t go into a market without the smell of cider donuts welcoming you.

It’s as much about the aromas and smells as it is the sights, so take full advantage in whatever region you are in to utilize those unique products to drive more apple sales.


In addition to apples, fall is the season for a glut of pumpkin-spiced everything. It’s clear that retailers aren’t letting consumers forget about real pumpkins, however. Indeed, it’s no surprise pumpkins and apples have both been trending among the top five on The Packer’s Produce Market Guide. The guide has great tips for sales, cross-merchandising and display strategies for pumpkins.

Gone are the days of orange jack-o-lanterns in a bin. Today it’s about providing value through variety offerings and unique heirloom pumpkins, creating a destination and tying in the entire store.


Pumpkins in various shades of green, green-blue and white are also popular for porch décor and fall tablescapes. While many love the various shades of naturally teal-shaded gourds for their aesthetic value, some display teal pumpkins to indicate they have nonfood treats for trick-or-treaters on Halloween.

Started in 2014 by Food Allergy Research & Education, the campaign is designed to help include kids with food allergies, diabetes and other medical issues get in on the fun.

Houses that display teal pumpkins, many of them painted teal, signify they have non-candy treats as options. So if you don’t have teal in your mix, consider adding a few in your display. It’s a potential win-win to help raise awareness and potential sales.

Decorative gourds are next level this time of year, from painted black-and-white buffalo check, to football-themed carving stencils, pumpkins as floral planters and more.

All one must do is jump on Pinterest or Instagram for what’s trending.  

And one garlic supplier will debut their Octcloverfest monster garlic promotion at Fresh Summit in Anaheim, Calif. Oct. 17-19.

It’s all proof that there are many ways to make food fun and incorporate such items into gatherings from décor to dinner and dessert.

Food for (fall) thought

Don’t forget fall is also soup season, and hard vegetable crops like hard squash and root vegetables make great soup ingredients. Promoting soup vegetables, showcasing recipes or doing tastings can really bring attention to the category.

Beets, rutabagas and parsnips are great for fall too, and don’t forget the carrot is often overlooked as a key fall vegetable. Consider spotlighting vegetables that are great for roasting.

November will be coming up quickly, so think ahead to the Friendsgiving phenomenon and other celebrations that are offshoots of Thanksgiving. Consider how you can weave these storylines into your produce department and cross-promote with other departments, including floral.

November is also a transition time, when supply shifts from Salinas Valley to the desert growing regions. Be prepared. Anticipate potential price spikes. And instead of waiting for the sky to potentially fall, focus on items not affected by transition.

Outside the ordinary

November is also counter season for commodities like grapes and stone fruit. As I suggested earlier, go beyond showcasing the expected. For instance, why not spotlight cherries from Chile at Christmas?

Think about colors and flavors and consider the customers you have and what might appeal to them.

Edible flowers are another unexpected upstart making waves on social media, from breakfast bowls to cocktails and mocktails, to desserts and even the ubiquitous taco. Could incorporating floral flavors be the next kale, cauliflower or celery? Time will tell.

There’s so much opportunity ahead for fall and winter and the upcoming holiday season. Many such ideas will be showcased at Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit, where produce and floral buyers, suppliers and business solutions providers gather to make connections and grow business. I’m looking forward to seeing many of you there.

Be sure to say hello, stop by the PMA Center at booth no. 2736 and let us know your ideas for helping PMA, our members, exhibiting companies and attendees get a jump on 2020. There’s something for everyone at Fresh Summit. Until then, I’d love to hear your ideas and how you are differentiating yourselves this fall. Send or share pictures of your unique merchandising themes for successful fall promotions. Best wishes to all!


Pump up your pumpkin displays for fall

It's all about pumpkins on Produce Market Guide


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