Roasting root vegetables is all the rage among Millennials and that has led to an increased interest in some of the more obscure items in the category and a prime opportunity for savvy supermarket produce managers looking to increase rings at the register.
“The ease of cooking has made root vegetables very popular,” said Paul Kneeland, executive director of produce, foodservice, floral and bakery operations at Gelson’s Market, Los Angeles. “It’s simple ingredients — salt, pepper and olive oil is all you need.”
Michael Schutt, senior category manager, produce & floral at Raley’s Supermarkets, West Sacramento, Calif., noted that root vegetables have transitioned from comfort meals in the crock pot and slow cooker to fresh preparations on the grill and in roasting pans.
“Root vegetables, like many other vegetables, have made the migration from side to center plate,” he said. “Customers are seeking foods that are bright in color, varied in texture and nutrient-dense, and this category has those characteristics in spades.”
Beets are one of the trending root vegetables in the summer of 2018, and they are even seen in many stores as noodles, as well as rising in popularity in foodservice venues and in salad bars. They provide both flavor and interest, whether roasting a mellow gold beet or creating a salad with the beautiful spiral of a Chioggia.
Other root vegetables that grocers should be touting include parsnips, turnips, kohlrabi, daikon and jicama. The foodservice industry is the proving ground for many of these lesser-known items and ultimately drives customers into the grocery segment looking to add a turnip to their mashed potatoes or roasted parsnips to their artisan pizza.
“The versatility of root vegetables is why customers are interested,” Carlton said. “Juicing, pickling and traditional cooking methods are all a great way to enjoy roots.”
Touting Health Benefits
Scott Bennett, produce manager for Jewel-Osco, Itasca, Ill., noted sales of ginger has been on an upswing for a few years now and he expects that to continue.
“People are drawn to it because of its health benefits,” he said. “Plus, it’s refreshing and a lot of people are mixing it in with their smoothies and adding some zing.”
Jewel-Osco stores highlight these ideas with in-store demos utilizing ginger in these sort of health drinks and also draw attention to other root vegetables through social media.
“We also have our T-shirt events in the produce department, where employees act like walking billboards, going through the section with advertisements literally on their backs,” Bennett said. “When it comes to root vegetables, we will mass merchandise anything and everything to see what we can sell and what’s trending at any given time.”
In addition to ginger, turmeric has been trending well for Fresh Thyme, headquartered in Downers Grove, Ill., for many of the same reasons.
“These both seem to be at the center of attention in many recipes, a focal point of many cooking shows, and are even appearing more often in restaurant menus,” said Scott Schuette, vice president of produce at Fresh Thyme. “Our customers seem to be most interested in turmeric and ginger for the health benefits provided when used in juicing shots or juicing blends.”
To capture maximum sales potential, Fresh Thyme has added packaged organic varieties of both to its offerings and has seen increased movement.
“The best way to get the word out is by including items like these in our weekly ad flyer,” Schuette said. “The occasional promotion of somewhat obscure items like turmeric will get the attention of customers, especially if the advertised price is a big savings with an intriguing message of healthy benefits stated in the flyer. Healthy attributes and serving suggestions sell product.”
The Art of Merchandising
Being smart with your root vegetable merchandising will lead to more sales, and most produce experts agree that you need to be a little creative with your marketing because customers sometimes need a little push to think about these items.
One area where retail can succeed is in value-added produce, eliminating some of the thought process for the customer. A root vegetable roasting kit comes to mind with an array of vegetables cut, cleaned and ready for the grill to complement a protein or as a great topping for a pizza.
“We try to merchandise the root family of vegetables together, creating a one-stop-shop,” Schuette said. “We have a ‘Root Vegetable’ destination in the display case, sign it well, and offer helpful tips on using each with informational POS signage.”
At Gelson’s Market, the root vegetables are included among sections of culinary items in both raw and ready-to-cook form (precut/packaged).
“We add a recipe, but keep it simple, as people generally do not know how to put items together,” Kneeland said. “Baby root vegetables are becoming more and more popular as they are bite size and cook faster and more consistently, and our department is there to answer any questions someone may have about the ease of cooking.”
When it comes to ingredients like root vegetables, Schutt noted there are really three main cogs in the purchasing wheel: variety, recipe ideas and fresh and full characteristics.
“I think we need to take our hats off to the foodservice industry for creating some of the demand, but we also utilize point-of-sale materials when available and recipes for meal solutions,” Schutt said. “The wide variety of plant-based diets out there drives consumers to seek out alternatives to traditional proteins, and root vegetables offer the flavors and density to satisfy those needs.”