Deck the halls with oranges and grapefruit?
Citrus fruits may not replace candy canes, but they are a growing part of the Christmas season -- for eating and decorating.
While citrus fruits have long been a staple in holiday gift baskets, some supermarkets also are experimenting with boxes of grapefruit or oranges for gift-giving.
Harp's Food Stores, Springdale, Ark., started selling full cases of fruit the day after Thanksgiving, said Vince Terry, director of produce. Products include navel oranges and tangerines as well as red and gold delicious apples.
"We also do some one-third-case gift boxes that we bring in from growers, but we don't push them as hard as we do cases and gift baskets," Terry said.
He figures three factors drive preholiday case sales: Some people give them as gifts; some buy them because they will be doing a lot of entertaining, and churches and community organizations buy cases to divide up into food baskets for needy families.
In addition to featuring fruit as a healthy alternative to candy and cookie gifts, retailers could also promote fruit as a decorating tool, suggested the Florida Department of Citrus.
This year some home decorating magazines and upscale catalogs have been featuring citrus fruits in their Christmas decorating ideas, said Valerie Barnett, director of the fresh citrus business unit at the Florida Department of Citrus.
Barnett said the availability of low-cost food dehydrators has led to the use of dried citrus slices in decorations and as ornaments, supplementing the use of fresh fruit in centerpieces and wreaths.
The department has brochures featuring such decorating ideas, which retailers can offer at their in-store displays.
Meanwhile, Bashas' Markets, Chandler, Ariz., has had success in the past with half cases of mixed fruit -- apples, oranges, grapefruit and sometimes pears, said Fred Romley, produce buyer and merchandiser. The chain puts the boxes together in-house and finds they sell better than a half-case of a single fruit.
Bashas' also offers a gift box of at least 15 pounds of fruit in a fancy wooden box that retails for $35 or more. "We don't sell a ton of them, but it does sell," said Romley.
This year's good crop of clementines has some retailers working on ways to offer gift packs of those.
"We had real success last year with a gift pack of 5 pounds of clementines in an open basket with net over it," said Kurt Oesch, produce director at Associated Grocers of New England, Manchester, N.H. The wholesaler also is considering a similar gift item using tangerines or California mandarins.
Genuardi Super Markets, Norristown, Pa., also is planning to offer a clementine gift pack, said Michael Genuardi, director of produce operations. The pack will probably have 36 clementines for about $7.99, he said.
Several growers are starting to offer half cartons, or 20-pound boxes, of a single fruit with a holiday motif printed on the boxes, according to executives at the Florida and Texas citrus commodity boards.
Many retailers, however, indicated their holiday efforts are concentrated on gift baskets rather than larger packs of a single fruit. Some said they opt for full-case promotions in January and February at the peak of the season instead.