HAWAIIAN GOLD PINEAPPLES ENLIVEN WEST COAST MARKETS

MIAMI (FNS) -- Retail operators on the West Coast are going into spring with a tropical flair, buoyed by at least one new variety of pineapple that's coming to market.Operators in Southern California have presented the fruit to fit their marketplace. While upscale Von's Pavilion and Gelson's units are offering large Hawaiian Golds, recently introduced by Del Monte Fresh, Coral Gables, Fla., value-oriented

MIAMI (FNS) -- Retail operators on the West Coast are going into spring with a tropical flair, buoyed by at least one new variety of pineapple that's coming to market.

Operators in Southern California have presented the fruit to fit their marketplace. While upscale Von's Pavilion and Gelson's units are offering large Hawaiian Golds, recently introduced by Del Monte Fresh, Coral Gables, Fla., value-oriented Food 4 Less offered slightly smaller fruit.

The pineapple was introduced to Western consumers through a media tour mounted by the grower earlier this spring. Radio and television talk shows, cooking shows and in-store events were part of the program. Operators also promoted the item in ads and displays, focusing their sales efforts on the Easter week.

Southern California Albertson's stores built end-cap displays and cross-merchandised a coring device. Northern California Safeway units also used end caps, and they promoted the fruit in two ads during March, hinging the overall promotion on the industry's 5-A-Day message. Also in northern California, Raley's pinpointed the Easter holiday as a promotional sales point.

At Seattle-area Larry's Markets, the Hawaiian Gold pineapples were being tested along with a super-sweet, white Sugarloaf pineapple that is also low-acid. Passive demonstrations of the items promoted sales.

"There is not huge tonnage in pineapples," said Lon Hatling, produce specialist. "We like to offer our customers variety and choices. It's much like offering two varieties of peaches or two varieties of plums."

Another western Washington operator, Town & Country's Shoreline Central Market unit, offered the Hawaiian Golds on a huge, larger-than-life bulk display that greeted customers with sweet aromas at the door. Pineapples in the five-count boxes were stacked adjacent to a table of upright single fruit. The operator also announced the availability through its in-store newsletter and through in-store sampling.

The six-unit chain moved 1,000 cases per week during March, according to officials. The Central Market unit alone sold 400 cases per week. Prices ranged from $1.49 per pound to a special promotion offering the fruit at 78 cents a pound.

The independent chain's "What's Fresh" newsletter introduced customers to the pineapple's cachet -- grown in limited quantities in the rich volcanic soil of Maui, hand-picked when fully ripe and ready to eat, shipped within 24 hours of harvest. Additionally, readers were told of the fruit's virtues: three times the vitamin C of regular pineapples, with a less acidic, extra-sweet flavor. The newsletter included tips on selection of fresh pineapples.

The operator does not do any advertising outside of the stores. "We pick items for the right reasons," said Joe Polacheekeo, produce specialist for the Poulsbo, Wash. chain. "We look for the right quality, the right items and the right time for promotions. Then, through merchandising and display, we communicate to our customers items we are proud of."

Other area markets, including Safeway and Albertson's, were offering the Golden Ripe variety during the Hawaiian Gold's introduction. Safeway had the Golden Ripe on ad featuring it at 99 cents per pound.

According to the grower, carving out a new item segment is intended to make the pie bigger and attract new customers to pineapples through flavor and different price points. A spokesman added that the Hawaiian Gold pineapples marketed west of Denver will be sourced from Hawaii, while East Coast shipments will come from fields in Costa Rica.