Summer is peak season for tree fruit and savvy retailers tout that the segment is not just for eating out of hand anymore, advertising that different varieties go well with ice cream, can be great in pies, are a nice complement for salads, and can even be grilled.
“The yellow varieties of the peaches and nectarines still sell the best,” said Paul Kneeland, director of produce, floral and bakery operations for Gelson’s Markets, Los Angeles. “White flesh is trending though—lower acid, high in sugar—creating a fantastic eating experience.”
The rise of regional peaches is one of the biggest trends in tree fruit this summer, as California no longer holds a monopoly on the season in the minds of retailers and consumers.
Scott Schuette vice president of produce at Fresh Thyme, Downers Grove, Ill., noted Georgia, South Carolina, Colorado and Michigan have all had some peak-of-season opportunities for customers to try a peach from many different regions throughout the growing season.
Additionally, many stores are finding pluots (a mixture of plum and apricot) continue to be a winner in the category.
“Pluots are really dominating the space once occupied by plums,” Schutt said. “With brilliant-colored flesh, high flavor and an array of exterior skin colors, these fruits offer a better consumer experience than their parents, the plum and the apricot, could have ever hoped to.”
In fact, Fresh Thyme stores have decided not to carry red or black plums for the remainder of the prime pluot season.
“The higher customer satisfaction and low cost disparity make it a win-win for us to carry exclusively during prime season,” Schuette said. “Pluots continue to become more mainstream and less specialty with our customer base. The outstanding eating quality, along with the numerous varieties, keep customers coming back for more.”
Michael Schutt, senior category manager, produce & floral at Raley’s, headquartered in West Sacramento, Calif., shared that although much of the sales in-season are found in traditional yellow peach and yellow nectarine varieties, the “hybrids” are selling really well.
“These varieties cross-bred within the same genus are adding excitement and different flavor profiles to the category,” he said. “Breeding programs—both domestic and abroad—are really leaning in on developing varieties focused on sugars, flavor and customer experience.”
When it comes to peaches and nectarines, Schutt said the demand for white varieties and sub-acid yellow varieties has been growing like a tidal wave.
“The white varieties don’t require the consumer to wait for acid levels to fall away in order to become sweet, so they can generally be eaten when firmer than their yellow cousins,” he said.
To Add or Not to Add…
Steve Carlton, category manager, produce for Natural Grocers, based in Lakewood, Colo., said customers are on the lookout for lots of variety, heirloom flavors and new taste experiences. Therefore, the decision to add to the chain’s tree fruit assortment comes down to appearance and flavor.
“Pluot varieties with unique color and flavor, like Flavor Gold, are trending in our stores, and that’s new this year,” he said. “Customers are also anxiously awaiting our famous Palisade Peaches.”
When Fresh Thyme considers adding something new, Schuette said it starts on a small scale that is auto-shipped out to the stores and the produce team will micromanage the movement, shrink levels and sales potential. New items that do well out of the gate usually become a permanent part of the lineup for the remainder of their season.
A Proper Showcase
At Natural Grocers stores, the produce department’s tree fruit displays are flush with a variety of colors to provide some pop in the department.
“To get customers excited about Palisade peaches from Colorado, we encourage our stores to get creative with signage and displays,” Carlton said. “We have some incredibly creative department managers who continue to surprise and excite us with their displays.”
One of Carlton’s personal favorites was a life-size “Welcome to Colorful Colorado” sign and themed display drawing attention to the peaches.
In addition to teaching customers where the home tree fruit location is, satellite merchandising has been a key focus for Fresh Thyme stores.
“Satellite displays (two or more displays of the same item) have worked very well for us,” Schuette said. “They have allowed us to capture impulse sales when displayed outside of the produce area, while ensuring customers that we have ripe, ready-to-eat, fruit in the store.”
When it comes to marketing the tree fruit, Fresh Thyme partners with a regional grower or state agency that has the ability to provide collateral materials and information. For example, its partnership with Georgia Peaches allows the company to work with growers and the state to create co-branding point-of-sale material, social media pieces and website updates.
Kneeland noted placing fruit near the salad bar and foodservice areas has helped sales at Gelson’s Markets. He also recommends holding sales contests and doing special displays in departments that call out the grower and the eating qualities of the fruit.
“We try and highlight items in our ads—add romance to the descriptions; also try and call out the local and hyper-local aspects,” he said. “We use social media for any grower visits and our website with more detailed information is also helping get the word out.”
Schutt noted there are a host of components that lead to success, including point-of-sale materials and recipe ideas to spur customer creativity and sampling, especially some of the lesser known tree fruit items. And every July 1, Raley’s launches its “Passion for Produce” campaign, an eight-week focus on the selling and merchandising of key summer items within the produce department.