WATSONVILLE, Calif. -- Stack 'em high, watch 'em fly is a grocery motto that is playing more and more in the produce department.
But pulling off huge volume often depends upon building huge displays, which strains already stretched labor in the department.
It's a classic produce conundrum, especially when it comes to berries. The product has to be accessible to consumers, not kept in the back room, for retailers to reap the benefits of impulse sales.
Packaging is a way out of the dilemma, said Phil Adrian, marketing manager at Driscoll Strawberry Associates here.
"When consumers see a good display, they buy berries," he said. "If the product is there, they will buy.
"But retailers don't have the horsepower to get the fruit out when the velocity off the display is incredible," Adrian said. "Unfortunately, sometimes department managers only order what they can sell and they can only sell what's on display," he said. "Retailers lose a sales opportunity then."
Growers, shippers and retailers are challenged together to bolster consumer spending in produce, Adrian said.
"The major issue facing the industry is establishing an orderly marketing flow of fruits and vegetables, and developing ways the shipper can support the receiver in the quest to access more consumer dollars," he said.
The industry's 5-a-Day program is on the right path, according to Adrian; however it is packaging that will more directly be the key to more sales.
Current and emerging packaging concepts for fresh fruit and vegetables are breaking a 30-year trend, Adrian said. Simply put, packaging gives retailers a stackable product and the flexibility to build those big displays more efficiently.
And retailers want larger displays to attract attention to the products -- especially high-impulse products.
The ability to scan these products further addresses the labor issue, by relying on point-of-sale pricing as opposed to individual units being priced. Additionally, scalable items speed the movement report to retailers so inventory can be managed to its fullest extent.
Again, packaging is the key, Adrian said.
Strawberries, for example, are a mature market growing 3% to 5% per year. At the same time, growers are able, each year, to produce more fruit and bring it successfully to market.
The chief obstacle to achieving increased sales is labor, Adrian said.
Since up to 20% can be lost to shrink in a bulk display, baskets are the method most retailers employ to merchandise berries.
"In-store berries take a lot of time," he said. "Baskets have to be constantly reworked."
Packaging is designed to meet specific needs, he said.
"Retailers may be on a one-pound program, and their customers want a family-sized option, so a two-pound product can meet that need.
"Stem-on strawberries are beautiful. They are a different product that needs protection within the department and a tool to differentiate them at the front end.
"Half-pound offerings fit the bill when berries are not plentiful enough to fit the current structure."
To examine the role packaging plays in the orderly flow of products to market Driscoll conducted market research involving both consumers and the retail trade.
"We first found that with our patented varieties, Driscoll berries offered a positive experience," Adrian said. "Once we had consumers with a positive experience, we wanted them to be able to repeat that experience. We started looking at a way to differentiate our product. Trial is good, but repeat business is better."
The result was branded berries, which Adrian says gives consumers the ability to know what to expect with each purchase.
"What consumers can expect is a premium quality of fruit that tastes good," he said. "They know what they like, and they want it again."
Again, based on market research Driscoll found that green, mesh baskets were believed to hide the fruit's appearance and damage the fruit with cuts.
Clear plastic was selected because of its superior product protection, not just from the field to the supermarket, but from the supermarket all the way home, Adrian said. Additionally, a great majority of the product is visible.