Nothing says abundance like a row of bulk bins. A proper mix of raw oats, yogurt-covered raisins and granola projects an image of in-your-face freshness that packages on shelves can't.
Retailers who've installed bulk areas find bins can boost incremental sales and are ideal for consumers looking to purchase certain items in exact amounts.
"It's an important part of our natural foods business and helps enhance the whole natural program. It's one of our top five categories within the segment. Buying in bulk certainly presents customers with value," said Dana Forsman, natural and organic category manager for Ukrop's Super Markets, Richmond, Va. The chain dedicates 12 to 24 feet to bulk bin displays, while another Southeastern chain typically installs an average of 24 to 40 feet. Both retailers rotate through more than 200 varieties of bulk product every year, including nuts, spices, dried fruit, rice, grains, flour, candies, oats, loose tea and granola.
"Over the past year, we have seen a tremendous lift in sales; however, that's a bold statement to make," said the Southeastern chain's bulk manager, who asked not to be identified. "It involves a combination of dedicating more personnel to make sure it's clean, completely revamping our natural foods department with brand new bins and allocating more space than before."
Most retailers with whole-health programs might want to start with 12 to 16 feet of bins, according to Little Rock, Ark.-based Trade Fixtures, one of the leading bin providers. Profit margins can approach 50% if the selection focuses on high-volume items, added Bart McKnight, the company's natural category manager.
"You want to design an appealing and easy-to-use section that maximizes stockkeeping unit count and has a nice presence. You want to make bulk a destination location and avoid the feeling of an afterthought," he said.
At Ukrop's the sections are located in the chain's natural food departments, which vary in size and scope, depending on the location. In aggregate, however, sales from the bulk aisle have been good.
"Our sales are up over 26% in the last 13 weeks over last year," Forsman said.
While consumer value and strong margins are benefits, sanitation and security are issues to take into account. Bin designs need to reassure both customer and retailer. Ukrop's and the Southeastern chain are outfitted with gravity-pull bins, which have spouts at the bottom. Both are finding these to be an efficient solution to food safety, security and pilferage.
"If you manage it well, keep your shrink in check and dedicate man-hours to make sure it's clean, it can be a very lucrative department," the bulk manager said. "Keep it clean, stocked and fresh. If you just let it run on its own, it'll be lucrative for a while, but not very long."