Now may be the time for independent retailers to think seriously about finding ways to improve or introduce fresh fruit and vegetables in store.
Though generally aware of the benefits, independents tend to be put off by poor availability and short shelf-life. But according to the Institute of Grocery Distribution’s Convenience Retailing 2005 report, fruit and vegetables are rising stars within the fresh category, which includes bakery, chilled foods and sandwiches.
Fresh now accounts for almost one-fifth of overall c-store sales.
Symbol group operators are actively attempting to reduce independent retailers’ reliance on core categories and boost the profile of other categories such as fresh.
In Scotland, poorest of the four UK nations, a project has been launched to persuade independent retailers to stock more fresh and healthier products. Life expectancy in Scotland is depressingly low. Half the adults and most of the children eat crisps, chocolate and sweets on a daily basis, and only three in 10 children eat the five-a-day recommended intake of fresh fruit and vegetables. The Scottish Executive has placed the health of its population at the top of its political agenda in a bid to improve matters. Gillian Kynoch is the food and health co-ordinator at the Scottish Executive’s health department. She says: “Health improvement is a priority for the Executive, and the department is taking forward a very broad programme to tackle this issue. “We particularly want to make a healthy lifestyle more accessible to people living in deprived areas where life expectancy is at its lowest.
“The biggest challenge is tackling c-store retailers. Scots in general have a very poor diet and, unlike other parts of the UK, they use c-stores an awful lot to do their shopping. “We don’t believe peoples’ diets will improve unless they can access fresh products and other healthy foods from their local c-store. “There has been a lot of talk about fresh being the next big area but in Scotland there is poorer availability than anywhere else in the UK.” Kynoch and Sandy Wilkie, director of sales and marketing at Robert Wiseman Dairies, rallied the major c-store retailers in Scotland – Botterills Convenience Stores, David Sands, CJ Lang & Sons and Aberness Foods (now Somerfield) – to get involved in a Healthy Living Neighbourhood Shop Project.
With funding of £10,000 secured from the Scottish Executive and a further £10,000 from retailers, a six-month trial took place, between April and October 2004. The idea was to assess the feasibility of increasing fresh and healthy products in c-stores. The health department branded the project ‘healthyliving’ and both TV ads and in-store furniture featured the ‘healthyliving’ logo to raise awareness.
A wide variety of promotional initiatives were introduced to test the water, including healthy meal deals, a free piece of fruit for every child accompanying a parent on a shopping trip, fruit coupons on consumer leaflets and a price promotion on fruit and vegetables.
David Sands managing director David Sands believes his customers understand the need to make changes in their diet. He says: “Customers have been asking for healthier choices – two thirds of them have requested healthier choices – so I was aware something needed to be done. My stores have always had more emphasis on fresh than most c-stores but I’ve made some changes as a result of the trial.”
Among other things, David looked at all categories to evaluate where healthy options could be introduced, like low fat, low salt ready meals, and changed his fresh fruit and vegetable supplier to a local farmer. He continues: “I was very dubious about introducing certain products but have been surprised by the success of some of them. Sales have risen since the trial but how much of this is a direct result of the trial I don’t know. Either way, I know I’m going down the right road.”
Trial results from the 200 stores involved are hugely encouraging:
Moving fruit and vegetables from the rear of the store to the front resulted in a 36% increase in sales in one store in the first week and ongoing increases of up to 62% A promotion of a healthy range of ready-to-eat meals resulted in a 260% increase in sales in another store There was a 400% jump in sales at a store that increased the space allocated to fresh fruit and vegetables and moved it to the front of the store
Displaying pieces of fruit rather than confectionery at checkouts resulted in the sale of more fruit than confectionery.
Kynoch says: “It’s hard to say which was the most effective promotion but we’ve identified how important product placement is and how effective it can be to bring fresh fruit and vegetables to the front of the store.”
But now the hard work really begins. “Phase 2 is about producing a template that all 5,000 Scottish c-store retailers can work to. It’s a huge step up. We are going to gauge the practicalities of national implementation and the logistics involved. “We’re looking at the constraints in the supply chain so we can increase the quality and reduce the cost of fresh fruit and vegetables. The Executive is investing £200,000 and retailers £290,000.” Training retailers in the art of handling, storage and display of fresh products is also an integral part of phase 2. Fresh supplier Capespan will play a part in training retailers both actively and as an advisor. Kynoch explains: “Retailers have lost the skills involved in selling fresh groceries, both in handling and ways of selling it. We want to offer them training that will make them confident and enthusiastic about stocking this category.”
David Sands has his own ideas about what can be achieved. “We have to be ambitious. We need to take specific products and make a feature of them in store to raise consumer awareness and make more of the ‘healthyliving’ logo, which is very important. “In the next 12-18 months, I’d like to see a 3% rise in sales of fresh food as a percentage of total sales.”
Kynoch and her team are due to report back in next April. The Scottish Executive has high hopes the project will open a new healthy chapter in the history of Scotland.
Either way, it’s about time the rest of the UK took a leaf out of Scotland’s book.
Pink Lady apples originated through a natural process of cross-pollination between a Golden Delicious and a Lady Williams in the Margaret River area, to the south of Perth in Western Australia, in 1979.
They mature more slowly than other apples and generally come from areas close to the best wine-growing regions of the world.
Available May to December, Pink Lady apples are relatively large with a firm, sweet, crisp, juicy flesh. They are excellent in salads, sauces and as an ingredient for pies.
Pink Lady is a trademark of Apple and Pear Australia Ltd (APAL), the industry body representing the interests of commercial apple and pear growers in Australia.
In the UK Pink Lady apples are available in Budgens, Co-op stores, Somerfield and most major multiples. The company responsible for marketing Pink Lady apples in the UK is Coregeo.
Top tip: Keep apples in the fridge until you want to eat them. They stay more crisp this way.
Source: APAL website: www.apal.org.au
Meet the Supplier
Supplier: G’s Marketing
Background: Founded by Guy Shropshire in 1952 at Barway in the Isle of Ely as GS Shropshire & Sons, the business is today run by eldest son John. One of the first producers to supply washed and pre-packed celery, G’s is now the largest grower of the crop in Europe. The business soon expanded into lettuce and onions. G’s Marketing Ltd was formed in 1984, with the introduction of the G’s ‘Naturally Fresh’ logo. Still a privately-owned family business, with annual turnover of more than £180m, the company has seen considerable growth over the past 20 years. G’s has always been committed to managing the entire process from growing through to production and marketing, with considerable innovation and investment. The farms are based in various locations in the UK. All crops are field grown and are integrated with environmentally-friendly management.
For 2005, G’s is investing in awareness campaigns for celery and prepared beetroot, focusing on a media relations campaign supported by dedicated websites packed with recipes and nutritional information. The websites are www.lovecelery.co.uk and www.lovebeetroot.co.uk. Other activities this summer include on-pack promotion of a free fridge and reader offers of mini-fridges.
Products supplied: lettuce, celery, Chinese leaf, beetroot, onions, radish, garlic, celeriac, range of organic produce. Ready-to-eat products: snackpots – celery sticks with sour cream & chive dip and baby carrots with thousand island dip.
Distribution area: National. Supplies direct to wholesalers and distributors.
Retailer: Tracy and Guy de Courtin
Location: Cornish Stores, Boscastle, Cornwall
Fresh strategy: A full range of fresh fruit and vegetables is displayed on two large stands outside the store’s front door. Tracy says: “The store is at the bottom of a hill, so the fresh fruit and vegetable display attracts a lot of passing trade.”
Tracy and Guy try to source as many fruit and vegetable varieties from local growers in Cornwall and Devon through local wholesaler Tamar View Fruits. Bestsellers include mushrooms, tomatoes, carrots, cabbage and cauliflowers. Apples and bananas are popular all year around and seasonal fruits also sell well. Current seasonal lines sourced locally include strawberries and Cornish Earlies.
Customers regularly buy their weekly supplies of fruit and vegetable from Cornish Stores, while sales are boosted by passing trade and tourists.
Tracy says: “We’ve always offered a large selection of fruit and vegetables. Sales have significantly grown in the past six to eight weeks due to healthy eating campaigns, like the school dinner campaign, which have helped persuade families to eat more fruit and vegetables. As a consequence, I’ve noticed ready meals are at a real low.”
Fruit and vegetable profit margins range from 25-30% – depending on the product and time of year – and the category accounts for between 30-40% of the store’s £10,000 weekly turnover.
In the next four to five weeks a local bedding stand, positioned outside the front window of the store, will be replaced by a display of seasonal soft fruits, like peaches and nectarines.
As a sideline, Tracy and Guy also supply fresh fruit and vegetables to 15 local restaurants, B&Bs and pubs. Says Tracy: “We deliver the orders ourselves. Guy likes to visit customers in person to maintain a good relationship with them. This is an area of the business we intend to build on.”
Cornish Stores also offers fresh Cornish ham and bacon, a deli counter packed with Cornish cheese and pasties, Bradley’s clotted cream and local milk.