The snacking trend continues to motivate retailers to allot more and more space to packaged tomatoes.

“Packaged is where the trend has been moving to over the past five years,” said Jeff Cady, director of produce and floral for Williamsville, N.Y.-based Tops Friendly Markets. “We devote more space to packages as well. We do carry a fair amount of bulk in terms of linear footage, but we only carry five varieties of bulk tomatoes.”

Vic Savanello, regional vice president of produce and floral for Grand Rapids, Mich.-based SpartanNash, also mentioned packaged tomatoes getting more space, though he noted that bulk tomatoes still move well.

“The industry has migrated to packaged tomatoes, there’s no denying that,” Savanello said. “The snacking tomato has really overtaken the category as far as space allocation is concerned.

"At many SpartanNash stores – including our 18 recently remodeled Family Fare stores in West Michigan – we offer loose snacking tomatoes, allowing customers to build their own assortment of cherry, grape and other varieties of tomatoes," Savanello said. "That being said, the highest volume SKUs are still the reliable tomatoes we merchandise loose on the stand."

Price Mabry, produce sales manager for the Gulf Coast division of Associated Wholesale Grocers, said he is also seeing packaged tomatoes become increasingly important in the category.

“When we start talking about growing the category it is all in packaging,” Mabry said. “When I look back five years ago you had one major player for packaged tomatoes; now you are seeing them in every booth at every show you go to.

“There is tons of support and information out there for the educational piece,” Mabry said. “I think that is key for growth for next five years.”

Scott Bennett, produce sales and merchandising manager for Itasca, Ill.-based Jewel-Osco, said his stores have increased space for packaged tomatoes as well. He also noted that this year, for the first time, snacking tomatoes have overtaken the movement of bulk tomatoes for the chain.

Michael Schutt, produce merchant for West Sacramento, Calif.-based Raley’s, said the interest in snacking and the interest in sustainability have both had an effect on the tomato category.

“Although this shift is more mature on the East Coast, it certainly has changed our go-to-market strategy out here on the West Coast as well,” Schutt said. “There has been a move as of late towards removing plastics from the supply chain too.”

Kevin Byers, produce merchandiser for Seattle-based PCC Community Markets, said his stores carry as much bulk as they always have, if not more.

“What has really changed over the last five years is the type of packaging,” Byers said.

“The first change was pouch bags, which although more difficult to merchandise, gained traction with the consumer," Byers said. "Now it is all about sustainable packaging. There are more open-pint cherry tomatoes on the market, and the plastic clamshell is slowly transitioning to a pulp-based or cardboard container. It is exciting to see what comes next.”

Patrick Mills, director of produce and floral for Niwot, Colo.-based Lucky’s Market, said the company leans toward bulk tomatoes when possible.

“Less plastic in the world is always good,” Mills said. “Heirloom varietals really making a solid comeback.”

Brian Dey, senior merchandiser and natural stores coordinator for Ephrata, Penn.-based Four Seasons Produce, said he still sees plenty of bulk tomatoes both at co-ops and other stores.

Louis Scagnelli, director of produce and floral for Alpha 1 Marketing, an affiliate of White Plains, N.Y.-based Krasdale Foods, said the mix of bulk and packaged really depends on the store.

“Certain areas still will sell a lot more bulk than packaged product, yet some areas have doubled or tripled the amount of space dedicated to packaged product,” Scagnelli said. “The packaged items have definitely seen a substantial increase in category share over the last five years.”


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