Above: Rick Stein, Andrew Schuster, Chris Dove, Reade Sievert and Anne-Marie Roerink discuss the findings in the new Power of Produce report. (Photo by Ashley Nickle) Below: Anne-Marie and Ashley discuss the report.
TAMPA, Fla. — The Power of Produce session at the Southeast Produce Council’s Southern Exposure Feb. 26 covered topics including how shoppers plan their trips, which shoppers spend the most, which merchandising tactics engage them best, how they view packaging and sustainability, and much more.
The discussion revolved around highlights of the annual Power of Produce report from Food Industry Association (FMI) and 210 Analytics. Rick Stein, vice president of fresh for FMI, moderated the panel, and Anne-Marie Roerink, principal of 210 Analytics, presented the research.
Roerink described 2019 as a comeback year for fresh produce, with dollar sales up 1.2% to $61 billion. Center store and frozen are outpacing perimeter growth, however.
Reade Sievert, vice president of corporate produce for Associated Wholesale Grocers, said on the panel that to compete with frozen the produce department needs to leverage its strength — presentation.
“We can appeal to the senses,” Sievert said. “We can appeal to the sight, to the touch, to the smell, and even the taste if we do the sampling that we need to do. If you look at today’s consumer, a lot of the talk is about farm-to-table. We offer that.
“We have the ability to market local,” Sievert said. “We have the ability to grab that consumer with the new varieties that are out there, the varieties of grapes, the varieties of apples, all the things that really aren’t dictated in the frozen food aisle.”
The inclusion of fresh produce in the basket means an additional $22 on average for the retailer, according to the report.
Roerink noted that 63% of shoppers said routine is a major component of their meal planning.
“When people rely on routine this much, they end up wanting something different, and what happens is that people often then start to eat out instead of being able to create something different in their homes,” Roerink said.
She suggested that, to keep more of that spend in grocery stores, retailers need to help people see how they can tweak their routine meals into meals that feel a bit different. Where in earlier years people got new recipe ideas from Mom, now recipe websites are a common source of inspiration, and social media channels have grown to be almost as influential.
“The way people look for inspiration changes over time, and it’s very important to keep in mind how it is changing and who your shopper is and how they engage with these different ideas,” Roerink said, noting that digital and social media are where the millennial and Gen Z consumers are.
“Shoppers who are inspired by social media shop and engage with produce very, very differently, and that’s important,” Roerink said. “If we look at those who look at at least three or four different social media or digital sources, they are more likely to also shop online, so how you can your shorten that (journey), I get my idea on Pinterest, and translates into a sale for me in my online platform?”
Roerink noted that a retailer’s different marketing platforms should mirror the consumers they are aiming to reach. For example, those younger shoppers are more engaged in health and wellness, environmental and social responsibility and other areas, so a retailer’s online platform should speak to those values rather than looking exactly like the paper circular, which appeals mainly to the boomer generation.
Roerink said there has also been a shift in how people are searching for recipes. Where they used to search for ingredients first, now many people search for the appliance they plan to use — an Instapot or an air fryer, for example — or the cooking method they plan to use — steam, grill, etc. — or the lifestyle they follow, like keto.
She noted it is important not to discard traditional promotional vehicles like the circular, at least not yet.
“Today the boomer is still the majority dollar spent, believe it or not, by a mile,” Roerink said. “If you look at every $100 spent in the store, the boomers spend $35 of it, millennials $23 of it. So think twice before you just wipe the paper circular off the table because the boomer still looks at it, and the boomer is still your majority spender.”
A planned purchase — or is it?
Produce is a unique category in that most shoppers plan to buy fruits and vegetables, either listing them specifically or in general, but most people also at least occasionally buy produce items that they hadn’t planned on.
Fifty-five percent list out specific produce items, while 24% generically list fruits and vegetables on their shopping plan, according to the report.
Promotions play a key role in getting produce on the list.
“Forty-three percent of produce dollars are sold on promotion — that’s very, very high,” Roerink said. “If you look at meat, it’s just 33%. If you look at deli, it’s just 15%, so promotions are very, very relevant in the fresh produce space, but how people are looking for promotions is changing very rapidly.”
Eighty-three percent of people who make lists also buy unplanned produce items with regularity. The most likely groups to do so include people who shop three times or more weekly; parents with kids at home; affluent households; and specialty and club store shoppers, per the report.
Virtually all consumers say they are looking to eat more fruits and vegetables, especially when it comes to snacks, according to the report.
Chris Dove, vice president of produce merchandising and pricing for Food Lion, noted that the company continues to work to connect the dots for shoppers when it comes to produce and snacking.
“Bringing whole meal solutions to one spot within the store, so bringing meat department, or deli, bakery ... or produce all in one area of the store to make it a quick, easy shop for our customers — I see it across the industry today, and specifically for Food Lion, we’ll continue to do that,” Dove said.
Fresh-cut is another way to address the consumer demand for convenience, he noted.
“Value-add is definitely driving our business within produce, and so we continue to look at assortment that our customer is looking for, the packaging that helps to present that product to her in the most sustainable way as we possibly can because we quite often with a lot of these snacking, value-add type items, the sustainability of that packaging is a challenge for us,” Dove said.
“We create sections within produce that we merchandise a lot of our snacking, value-add items, we use signage to bring her to those sections, and then there are opportunities for tie-ins across the store," Dove said. "An example for us is we’ll offer healthy snacking alternatives as she checks out at the front end in a refrigerated cooler.”
Andrew Schuster, director of produce and floral for Target, described tailoring assortment for different store formats and different trips as something his company has been working on.
“Making sure that we’re curating the right assortment for the right trip, every consumer as they’re shopping has an occasion in mind, whether that be a stock-up trip, a grab-and-go trip, an event,” Schuster said. “We’re making sure we’re standing for those types of occasions front and center by format, by volume, and by demographic, and so it’s getting as specific as you possibly can to having the right assortment and making it easy for the guest to shop.”