STEVENS POINT, Wis. -- Three units of Copps Corporation took first, second and third places in a produce-display contest that boosted sales of a premium-priced specialty item and reinforced the value of product sampling.
The contest centered on donut peaches, a direct descendant of the Chinese flat peach variety called peento. They are flat and round and drawn in at the center with a pit the size of a pistachio nut. They are grown for contest sponsor Frieda's, Los Alamitos, Calif., in Washington State and harvested during a five- to six-week season that runs through July and August. They are typically found on supermarket shelves beginning August 1. Results of the competition were just recently announced.
At Copps, the first place prize of $1,000 went to produce manager, Dave Ryfinski and his team at Copps store #178 in Madison, Wis.; second place and $500 was awarded to produce manager Brad Brayshaw and his team at Copps store #114, also in Madison; and third place and another check for $500 went to produce manager Dave Bader and his team at Copps store #105 in Oshkosh, Wis.
"Our stores get very excited about these contests, especially on new items," said Rod Sobczak, director of produce for Copps. "[We] are looking forward to participating again."
First-place winner Ryfinski said that building a large display comprised of a seasonal specialty item carries great risk and a high potential for above-average shrink. For those reasons, the display was designed to be "in-your-face."
"We set it up right in the front of the store," he said. "Anybody who came through [the doors] said it just really knocked their socks off, which, of course, was the plan."
Ryfinski said he and two associates built the display using five European slant tables and 236 cases of donut peaches. That makes for an overwhelming 13,216 peaches, not including the 40 additional cases they kept in storage. And despite the massive numbers, Ryfinski said shrink was "very minimal."
Nevertheless, it was the shrink factor that motivated Ryfinski to spare no effort to move the product out of the store during the short three-week "season" for the peaches. He called on the services of one of his senior department associates who had a flair for customer interaction.
"At that time we had a full-time demo woman and we had her really focus on the donut peaches," he said. "We've had this product [for] about two years, but a lot of people hadn't tried it. Between the big display and the demoing, people really just went crazy for them."
Sufficient in-store support was critical for attracting customer interest, according to Ryfinski, who stressed that staffers recruited to conduct demo programs must be enthusiastic and possess the ability to create the impulse for a customer to buy. In this case, the challenge went beyond simple customer education about a strange-looking peach, to helping customers overcome sticker shock. Prices for donut peaches are high compared to their traditional round counterparts. At his store, the peaches were sold for $2.99 per pound initially and then lowered to $1.99 per pound as the promotion neared the end.
"Sampling does two things for us," said Ryfinski of the benefits demo programs bring to the produce department. "It brings people to try new items, and in produce, a sale depends largely on taste."
From a more practical perspective, he noted that sampling can also be used as a tool to move extremely time-sensitive products that need a quicker sell-through, such as mangoes.
"Sampling can sell ripe produce, especially if it's in conjunction with value pricing," said Ryfinski. "Otherwise, we have to throw it all in the dumpster, and no one is happy about that."
According to Tristan Millar, director of marketing for Frieda's, the event was actually created at the urging of retailers who wanted them to host a contest for something new.
"We really got a lot of encouragement from them," said Millar. "And since the donut peaches have such a short season, we thought it would be good to give them a little exposure."
To advertise for the contest, Frieda's created a humorous, informational flier featuring a mock display with a police officer at the top, playing on the old policeman/doughnut joke. They backed this up by spreading the word by mouth whenever customers called to place an order.
The only guidelines were that the display had to utilize a minimum of 10 cases of donut peaches and that those peaches had to be visible in the photos submitted for entry. Frieda's did not provide any POP materials as they do for other contests throughout the year such as their Chinese New Year contest.
Millar said they received close to 40 photo entries and were very pleased by the displays. While the initial intention was to award a set amount of prizes, Millar said there were so many good entries, they couldn't resist rewarding everyone.
"Everyone got something because we were so impressed," she said. "Even the honorary mentions received $50 each."
In the end, Frieda's awarded one prize each for first, second and third places, five for fourth place and seven for fifth place, with the remaining entries receiving honorary mentions. Millar added that some stores are not permitted to accept cash prizes and so alternate prizes are being planned for them.
Entries were first divided by appearance and then by creativity. According to Millar, abundance really didn't come into play. She also said some of the displays were very unique, like the one created by a Scarborough, Maine-based Hannaford Bros. store that featured round, fuzzy doughnuts hanging from a tree.