Christmas is almost here, and with it all the delectable dishes that make getting the recommended daily servings of vegetables as easy as well… pumpkin pie. Walk into any store this time of year, and you’ll see beautiful displays of traditional seasonal offerings – everything from candied yams to beans for casserole to pumpkin in all its various forms.
But what happens when the holidays are over? According to data from The Nielsen Company, looking at the equivalized unit volume (16-ounce basis EUV) of vegetables over a two-year period, vegetable consumption peaks in November and December, and then declines into the hotter months. Why? Peter Goulet, President of Pinnacle Sales & Marketing, Inc., says it has a lot to do with tradition – and convenience.
“Since the days of the pilgrims, vegetables have always been a part of our holiday meals, but they are not considered to be convenient because they need to be prepared. While a customer may take the time to prepare a traditional holiday vegetable at Thanksgiving or Christmas, they may opt not to do so other times of the year,” Goulet says.
Yet another factor may be the fact that holiday time represents a gap in the harvest for peak season fruit items. When fruits are pushed harder in the summer, veggies often fall by the wayside. And while some categories, such as hard squash and turnips, are appropriately classified as winter vegetables, much of the rest of vegetable items are available year-round and part of a core lineup – instead of the front-of-the-store display.
Although different marketing techniques are likely to blame for declining numbers in summer months, other factors may be contributing too, says Goulet. More consumers attend farmer’s markets during the warmer months, and some may even be growing their own produce – both options that are not typically available to consumers in the winter months. Farmer’s market produce is not included in the Nielsen data, but could continue to represent a significant portion of vegetable consumption at certain times of the year, especially since the number of operating markets have gone up more than 18% over the last 12 years.
While frozen vegetable consumption remained relatively constant month-to-month, EUV of canned and fresh vegetables followed the holiday curve. January EUV also remains at a peak number, likely due to the fact that post-holiday diet resolutions kick in after the first of the year, and people on diets tends to consume more veggies. Veggies were up 11% in January of 2006 and up 15% in January of 2007.
Thanksgiving boasts slightly higher numbers than Christmas for veggies, with consumption up 19% above the average period in November 2005 and up 17% in 2006, as compared to December consumption, which shows veggies up 12% in 2005 and 10% in 2006. EUV then drops steadily heading into summer. Veggies were down eight percent in both June of 2005 and 2006, and by August of 2005 and 2006, veggies were down 11%.
“Most retail merchandisers will admit that summer means berries, grapes, peaches, cherries, melons, and a multitude of other succulent peak season fruit items that command and deserve shelf space. This often makes it challenging to keep the core items and sub-categories on the vegetable side of the department above water,” Goulet says. “But a little creativity and a thoughtful merchandising plan can change all that.”
Vegetables are powerful sales generators – regardless of the season. Here are a few of Goulet’s suggestions to help build and sustain vegetable sales year round:
Stress convenience and portability.
· Produce departments today have a deep lineup of pre-cut items that make it easy for consumers to integrate veggies into their meal. Cut veggies are ideal for kid’s lunches and much more portable than cut fruit.
· New technology and packaging (i.e. for microwaves) makes preparing fresh cut vegetables easy.
· Salads, salads, salads.
· Seasonal favorites such as corn can easily be prepared on the grill without spending time in front of a hot stove. Other vegetables that are quick and easy on the grill are asparagus, summer squash and zucchini, peppers, eggplant, and sweet potatoes – to name a few.
· Aluminum foil bags are a great way to cook a quick side dish at the same time as you grill your steak.
· Pre-cut and assembled veggie skewers and kabobs make a quick and nutritious side to any protein.
Healthy snacks and entertaining.
· Yes, summer fruits are delicious, but a vegetable platter with ranch dip is appropriate when entertaining any time of the year. Baby carrots, celery sticks, cucumber slices, and cherry tomatoes are all favorites on a party platter for your cookout.
· Spruce up a platter with more unique items like jicama, asparagus spears, or peak of the season English peas.
Quick and easy 10-minute meals.
· Why not keep the grill off for one night? Throwing together a quick and easy vegetable stir-fry takes a matter of minutes. Add chicken for additional protein and flavor.
Push locally grown produce.
· Retailers should be taking advantage of consumer desire to buy from and support their neighboring farms. Fresh from the field, locally grown vegetables are a great way to build sales while showing your customers that you support local agriculture.
· Build large displays in a high traffic location.
· Work with marketing to develop a unique, eye-catching sign kit for local produce.
· Have “Farmer Days,” and invite your growers to come meet your customers.
· Advertise heavily in your weekly flyer and local newspapers.
Cross-merchandise and aggressively go after in-and-out seasonal items.
· Merchandise vegetable kabobs in the meat case next to sirloin tips or another appropriate grilling protein.
· Create a BLT theme with peak season local lettuces and beefsteak tomatoes.
· Build attractive, eye-catching displays of local, short-season items such as peas, fiddleheads, etc.
· Provide recipe ideas on locally grown displays to increase impulse sales.
· Plan store-wide “buy local” events, tying in local bakeries, jelly & jams, etc.
· Build vegetable “grilling headquarters” in a prominent location in the department or high traffic location in the store. Have peak season vegetables, grilling utensils, foil bags, spices and marinades all merchandised together.