Langhorne, Pa. — McCaffrey's took a chance on a big, black, seedless grape that's now rivaling sales of the more common red and white seedless varieties.
The three-unit, upscale independent's produce merchandiser, Tony Mirack, had had his eye on Autumn Royal grapes for quite a while, he said, and had, in fact, given them a try at McCaffrey's a couple of years ago, generating only ho-hum sales. But he didn't launch them with any particular flair then.
“We really didn't get behind them then. Now we are — we're sampling them, talking about them, making big displays, and it's working,” Mirack told SN last week.
The turnabout came when Mirack recognized that his customers would appreciate the appeal of the variety if they were given the opportunity to taste them and find out more about them — especially the fact that they're seedless.
Right now, this season, sales of the black, seedless Autumn Royals are edging up to very near the level of best-selling red seedless at McCaffrey's, Mirack pointed out. But that has taken some romancing of the variety.
What spurred Mirack to make sure his customers got the whole Autumn Royal story was his own passion for the grapes, which he had discovered at the Philadelphia Produce Terminal.
“Our market, in the Philadelphia area, is primarily a red and white seedless grape market, but when I found these, I fell in love with them and I started to think our customers would, too,” Mirack said.
“These grapes [Autumn Royals] are everything a grape should be. They're large. They're crunchy. They're sweet. I absolutely knew they were the right item to get behind.”
A taste is all it takes to sell them, he said.
“We had a family trip, an outing, with some other couples, and I put a bowl of those grapes on the picnic table,” Mirack said.
“They disappeared in minutes. Everybody, without exception, as soon as they tasted one, made a big deal about it. And the kids love them.”
Right now, at McCaffrey's, the California-grown Autumn Royals are sitting in the spotlight and will stay there, in one way or another, right through their season, which generally runs through Thanksgiving.
McCaffrey's has posted laminated signs at a six-case display of the black grapes that say: “These black/blue, seedless grapes are very sweet, thin-skinned, and very firm.”
Also, last week the Autumn Royal grapes were given a preferred spot at the top of the produce page in the retailer's ad circular.
Featured at $1.69 a pound, the grapes have their own ad blurb that says: “We feel the eating quality of this grape was too good to pass up, and we think you'll agree.”
The everyday retail price at McCaffrey's is $1.99 a pound, as it is for white and red seedless grapes.
Passive sampling has proved to be a very effective sales driver.
“We're keeping an open dome of them at the display, encouraging customers to try them,” Mirack said. “Our associates know to keep washing up some to keep that dome full.”
As a matter of fact, Mirack said, a key to getting customers' attention trained on a product is to first get managers, assistant managers and front-line associates to buy into the endeavor.
“Whenever I bring in something new or different, the first thing I do is pop open a box of it and get everybody in the department to try it.”
With this particular grape, it's crucial to underscore that it is seedless, Mirack said. It's possible that Autumn Royals didn't take off as Mirack had hoped when he brought them in a couple of years ago because customers are used to big grapes and black grapes having seeds.
Italian Globes, for example, are big, and look good, but they're full of seeds.
Mirack, who came to McCaffrey's from the wholesale side of the business, has a lot of contacts at the Philadelphia Produce Terminal who often tip him off about new and/or better-tasting products that become available.
Mirack visits the wholesale produce terminal weekly to try to spot new items and talk to industry people about what's trending up.
“I'm lucky, because we have only three stores at McCaffrey's, and that gives us flexibility,” Mirack said.
“There are times during a season that a product is just wonderful, and we're able to jump on the opportunity to get it into our stores fast because we do have flexibility. You have to sometimes be able to shoot from the hip.”
Mirack has told SN in the past that when he hears of a good buy for a great product, he can get it into all three stores — sometimes within hours. And he gets the produce managers to move things around to give the product good exposure.
“With it up front, and associates talking to customers about it, we can move it out fast,” Mirack said. “Then we'll get something new in that we quickly get behind. We try to keep things exciting in the department.”