SELLING FOURTH

Retailers and grocery wholesalers are hoping to get a bang from Fourth of July promotions this year by taking full advantage of the traditionally wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables coming into the market.and vegetables coming into the market."Fourth of July, in my view, is the No. 1 opportunity for the year in produce," said Keith Frosceno, director of produce for Bozzuto's in Cheshire, Conn.Retailers

Retailers and grocery wholesalers are hoping to get a bang from Fourth of July promotions this year by taking full advantage of the traditionally wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables coming into the market.

and vegetables coming into the market.

"Fourth of July, in my view, is the No. 1 opportunity for the year in produce," said Keith Frosceno, director of produce for Bozzuto's in Cheshire, Conn.

Retailers in markets across the country tended to agree. They also agreed that the Fourth is a time for traditional favorites, especially watermelons, sweet corn and cherries.

"There is so much available. All the summer fruits are available, Southern vegetables are peaking, blueberries and cherries are in season at that time and there's really a lot of opportunity to promote a lot of really good products," said one executive.

Frosceno said he's focusing promotions on sweet corn and watermelons, as did most other executives. "Corn and watermelons are the two primary items for Fourth of July. Those are absolutely the traditional favorites," he said.

Fresh-cut fruit items were expected to blow out of the stores, with or without promotional support, they said. At the same time, however, the merchandisers are concerned that poor timing with supplies this season could make fresh cherries bomb.

Over the last two years, Frosceno said, he's noticed that seedless watermelons are becoming increasingly popular.

"I see more activity with seedless watermelon than with the traditional seeded watermelon. I think it's probably a good merchandising item. You can put the seedless out for a nice price," he said.

Like Bozzuto's, Acme Markets of Virginia will be featuring watermelons, said Jack Anzalone, director of produce for the North Tazewell, Va.-based retailer. "Watermelon will be our feature item; then, we've got all the cantaloupe, soft fruit and garden vegetables, such as new potatoes and cucumbers and squash," he said. "We do carry the seedless watermelon, and consumers have been reacting very well to those, especially the families with younger kids," he said. "Parents don't have to worry about the kids spitting the seeds out or choking on them. It's getting to be bigger and bigger every year." Anzalone said the yellow watermelons have also performed well for Acme Markets. At Minyard Food Stores in Coppell, Texas, the emphasis will be on locally grown seeded watermelons, according to Bob McPherson, produce buyer.

While some stores will carry the seedless varieties, McPherson said he plans to feature the type that consumers have to spit the seeds out of. At Ranch Markets in Spokane, Wash., cold weather has hampered production of Northwest crops, particularly cherries.

"Normally, we're starting to get into our promotion of produce locally grown in the state of Washington," said Scott Moore, a supervisor at Ranch Markets. "But the weather's been so poor and so wet that a number of the crops are either short or completely eliminated." "It's drastically changed what we do in advertising," he said. "For the Fourth, we would normally do a variety of fresh fruits -- we're normally keen on the melon types, but even those have been difficult to get. "We'll probably still be keen on the watermelon and salad-type items," he added.

Shortages of cherries from the Northwest are also presenting challenges throughout the country, since cherries are traditionally a strong promotional item this time of year. "The timing with the crop is an issue on Northwest cherries," said Bozzuto's Frosceno. "Everybody tries to get them in their Fourth of July ads, and the crop is seven to 10 days late this year.

McPherson of Minyard's agreed. "We'll promote other types of melons, along with berries. I doubt there'll be much emphasis on cherries this year, because of supply problems up in the Northwest," he said.

Pay Less Supermarkets in Anderson, Ind., had cherries scheduled for its Fourth of July ad, according to produce buyer John Dockrey. When interviewed earlier this month, though, Dockrey said he was considering pulling cherries off the ad. "The cherries we have coming in are eating good, but the appearance is not very appealing," he said. "The cherries have been very rough."

Several retailers plan to build on successful Memorial Day promotions. Bozzuto's, for one, featured a seedless watermelon promotion in May, which went well, according to Frosceno. Acme Markets of Virginia will also repeat a successful "farmers market" merchandising approach for the Fourth of July.

"With the exception of watermelons, we'll be displaying all the products in bushel baskets. It gives the perception to customers that it's home-grown," said Anzalone. "It's a perception thing. We did it for Memorial Day, and it did really well. So, we're going to do it again for the Fourth of July." Retailers also predicted that fresh-cut fruit will be a hit during the long holiday weekend, although no one planned to feature it on ad. "Fresh-cut fruit will be a big item for us," said Minyard's McPherson. "We'll have cut melons, plus we'll have it on our cut-fruit bars." At Bozzuto's, portabella mushrooms will be another featured item, not just during Fourth of July, but throughout the summer. "We're marketing portabellas as a grilling item. It has a role in just about every grilling ad we put in," he said. "Vidalia items would be a good item to put along with that."