ST. LOUIS — Schnuck Markets collaborated with Frieda's Inc. one Saturday last month to teach customers about specialty citrus products that are in season now.
Schnucks at each of its 106 locations hosted Frieda's trademarked Produce University, this time with a tight focus on citrus items that may not be familiar to everyone.
Moro blood oranges, pummelos, melogolds, kumquats, Meyer lemons and Shasta Mandarins took center stage.
Becoming “teachers for a day,” every produce manager conducted an eight-hour class in his or her department, and interacted all day with customers.
“Produce University positions our produce teams as knowledgeable and dependable resources,” said Mike O'Brien, vice president of produce at Schnucks, in a statement before this year's event, the Citrus University.
Prior to the in-store events, which all occur on the same day, the produce managers attend a training seminar conducted by Frieda's to familiarize them and their teams with the featured products.
After the training session, Frieda's marketing team provides in-depth product fact sheets on each item, as well as point-of-sale signage for each store and informational brochures for shoppers.
Sampling is always a big part of the presentation, but the produce managers, after going through a training session with Frieda's vice president, Jackie Caplan Wiggins, did a lot of teaching.
They knew customers would want to know such things as how to store the items, what do you do with a kumquat, if they could use Moro blood oranges in the same way they would use a regular orange, and what exactly is a pummello.
Wiggins told SN that Schnucks produce managers enjoy the interaction with customers, and some get very involved. During last summer's Melon University, Bob Smith, a Schnucks produce manager, got into the swing of things as he sampled French Kiss melons.
“He demonstrated showmanship, really getting into character,” Wiggins said.
He painted lip shapes on his face with lipstick and even had some lip-shapes pinned to his shirt.
“It's a fun day for everyone. We always like to throw in some fun facts,” Wiggins said. “Like when we did melons last summer, produce managers could tell customers that it was a Crenshaw melon that was stabbed in the movie ‘Psycho's’ stabbing scene,” which Frieda's had researched.
Frieda's universities make it easier for produce managers to interact with customers, because they have a lot of information to impart, and they can learn from customers, Wiggins and Schnucks' spokesman Paul Simon agreed. “All of the Frieda's university sessions have been successful,” Simon said.
“The long-lasting results of Produce University are more education among both our teammates and our customers, and ultimately that is our goal. Our mission at Schnucks is to be the food experts.”
Simon commented, too, on the effect the universities have on sales.
“We have really seen an increase in sales not only from the promotion time frame but overall as well.”
Simon told SN this was the first Frieda's university that targeted citrus alone.
“We featured Chinese New Year ingredients once, which included some citrus varieties,” Simon said. “But this one, on Feb. 27, focused only on citrus products.”
Wiggins told SN that from her experience with Frieda's, she's learned it's best to focus on just one category. If the teaching covers too broad a range, it can become confusing and won't be retained as well.
And for obvious reasons, it's best to choose products that can be easily and quickly sampled, she said.
Wiggins also commented on the importance of the commitment from the retailers' produce managers and praised them for their involvement.
“Schnuck did a study once using 10 of its stores to compare sampling by a outside company with sampling by its produce managers. The result was that the sampling by the produce managers brought significantly more sales,” she pointed out.
Los Alamitos, Calif.-based Frieda's does work with other supermarket companies, but Simon pointed out that Schnuck Markets has an exclusive with Frieda's universities in its marketing area.