Fresh produce can be a lucrative category for those who invest wisely in it. C-Store speaks to retailers who are ensuring their offering is the best of the bunch through inspiring displays and clever merchandising
Convenience stores are improving all the time, driven by the reality that they have supermarkets and discounters to compete with. And it’s no surprise that as a part of this c-stores’ fresh offerings are undergoing extensive changes. Some 85% of c-stores now say fruit and vegetables are important to the overall success of their store, according to HIM Research & Consulting, yet its insight director Katie Littler says that as it stands shoppers are buying only 12% of their total fruit and vegetable needs from a convenience store.
According to Simon Biddle of Biddle’s Simply Fresh, Redditch in Worcestershire, consumers still have the misconception that c-stores have a small range of fresh that’s inadequate compared with that of the supermarkets. “They don’t appreciate the way c-stores have changed, and the effort they now go to to compete with the larger stores,” he says.
Simon stocks a large range of fruit and veg which he gets from his local wholesale market at the very unsociable 4.30am. “The early starts are worth it,” says Simon. “It enables me to hand select only the best quality produce for my store.”
Simon has built up good relationships with his suppliers, ensuring he gets the best quality goods. “I text the suppliers my larger orders ahead of the market; this not only saves a lot of time, but it guarantees I get exactly what I need.”
Some 90% of his produce is bought loose, and for the most part he sells it this way, too. “I package up a few items when I get to the store, such as mushrooms, tomatoes, apples and carrots. This is mostly for the convenience of any customers who prefer to buy pre-packed goods,” he adds.
Gilletts Callington Spar store in Cornwall has recently been refitted, and fruit and veg is taking centre stage in a striking fixture brimming with loose fruit and veg. “We get a little of our produce from Appleby Westward and the rest from West Country Fruits and Total Produce,” says store manager Darren Cook. “It’s all about stocking quality products at the right price. We aim to make at least 50% margins on fresh produce. We can often price it better than Tesco because we buy it in cheap locally.” He keeps wastage to a minimum by offering regular product samples. “If something is too ripe to sell, we’ll open it up and offer it as tastings. We’ll get mangoes and pineapples, cut them open and offer them to customers on cocktail sticks with napkins. It really gets people interested in the products.”
Another retailer who has been developing his fresh offer is Chaz Chahal of Costcutter Bromsgrove in Worcestershire, but unlike Simon and Darren, he sells most of his produce pre-packed. Chaz used to rely solely on Costcutter for his fresh delivery, but he now gets a selection from his local wholesaler once a week, too. “This gives us a better selection and increased our profit margin by 10-20% as we were cutting out the middle man,” he points out.
“All our produce is pre-packed for convenience, with the exception of lemons, limes and garlic; we don’t have scales by the tills and this would only hold up those customers who want a quick whip around the store,” continues Chaz.
Chaz has also introduced the idea of fresh fruit as a snacking impulse buy. “We have set up two ‘bins’ by our tills; one is filled with chocolate and sweets and the other has punnets of strawberries, grapes and bunches of bananas. The idea has given us surprisingly good sales.”
Dean Holborn of Holborn’s, Redhill and Nutfield in Surrey, has also created his own on-the-go snacking range out of his fresh delivery, which comes from family-run business Hilliard Brothers. He claims that they deliver as often as he needs it, which can be six times a week. “Although most of our stock is sold loose, we prepare and pre-pack some of our own fruits for snacking, such as strawberries and grapes. Bananas are a great on-the-go snack because they require no preparing; they are one of our best-selling products,” adds Dean.
Dean has been supplied by Hilliards for the past 20 years, and why would he choose anyone else when he is working at a 40% profit margin? Their regular deliveries have proved especially helpful. He adds: “If a customer needs anything for the following day, even if we don’t stock it usually, I can place an order as late as 10pm at night and it will still be delivered the next morning.
“Hilliards delivers any amount I require, no matter how big or small, and this has helped to keep our wastage down and ensure our display looks as fresh as possible.
“We still lose roughly 2-4% through wastage, mostly because I am very selective with the fruit and veg I keep on the shelves; a spoiled product can ruin the whole display.”
Vince Maloney, who owns three Budgens stores around Ascot, two of which are 9,000sq ft, relies on Musgrave to deliver his fresh fruit and vegetables. “The quality is good and the offer is good. We have 20 bays of fresh in the two larger stores and a truck full of stock delivered six days a week. I just couldn’t get the same quantity as regularly as I need it if I went to markets.”
Vince makes roughly 25% profit on his fruit and vegetables, and although this could be higher if he was to get it from a market, by the time he subtracted the costs for delivery and time he says he would just about break even.
Budgens recognises that a lot of its stores range from large supermarkets to small forecourts so offers a mixed range to suit all types of store. Michael Green, central operations manager at Budgens, explains: “Retailers like the option of buying both loose and pre-packed because it gives them the ability to tailor their purchases to suit the customer types, seasonality and space available. Those with larger supermarket formats and a more elderly customer profile often prefer to buy more loose items.”
Vince is one of those retailers. “To cater for all types I give them the option of buying loose or pre-packed fruit and vegetables. I have quite a few elderly customers or small families who don’t want to buy pre-packed foods because they won’t use them all before they spoil,” he says.
Promotions play a key role in today’s c-stores and fresh produce is no exception. Budgens runs a variety of promotions “based on dynamics such as ‘2 for £4,’ ‘£1 packs’ and ‘half-price’ offers,” says Green. Similarly, Spar runs 17 three-weekly promotions throughout the year featuring between four and six produce lines. However, retailers have the flexibility to create their own promotions in conjunction with this.
Paul Cheema, owner of three Malcolm’s Stores in the West Midlands, not only runs promotions supplied by Nisa, he creates his own where he can. “Promotions attract the customer’s attention, and when fruits are in season it’s easier to offer a good price. We like to run cross-promotions; we regularly do this on strawberries and cream,” he adds.
Chaz has been encouraged to create more promotions as he noticed people becoming price-conscious. “We create a lot of our own promotions, trying hard to offer as many £1 deals as possible. This is a lot easier to do when the product is in season as we can buy it for less and therefore sell it for less.”
Displays that dazzle
Vince puts a huge amount of effort into displays. “Due to the size of my store, customers expect our fresh offering to be extensive and top quality,” says Vince. “I like it to always look fresh. If I wouldn’t buy it, I don’t sell it.”
Seasonal veg takes centre stage in the middle of the shop floor, displayed on top of one another on large wooden carts.
The fruit and veg display at Gilletts Callington has been transformed through use of clever props. “Before, we just had fresh produce in a plain unit, whereas now items are displayed in wooden crates at an angle with black trays inside to make the products stand out and give them market fresh appeal,” says manager Darren. At the base of the fixture stand sacks of potatoes with the tops rolled down, inviting consumers to dig in. “It’s important to create theatre. It makes customers more aware of what we offer,” says Darren. “The feedback we’ve had is immense. Fresh produce sales have doubled.”
Most of Simon’s fruit and veg are presented in wicker baskets on tables, in chillers or on shelves. “It’s one of the first things the customer sees when they enter and I wanted it to be eye-catching,” adds Simon.
Dean displays his produce in wooden boxes printed with ‘Holborn’s’ and lined with hessian bags, while wicker baskets sit on fridge shelves. “We also have wooden tables and baskets dotted around the store displaying a selection of impulse products, usually our seasonal ranges,” adds Dean.
With their clear passion for produce, these retailers are raising the game when it comes to fruit and veg. It might take time to convince consumers, but the tide is changing, notes Vince. “Convenience stores are responding; five years ago we didn’t make the most of our fresh and chilled offerings, but with a rising amount of competitors we are taking a stand.”
KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE
Whether you stick to a basic range of fruit and veg such as carrots, broccoli, onions, potatoes, and apples, or delve into more unusual varieties, what you stock will depend on what your customers want.
Paul Cheema, who owns three stores in the West Midlands under the Malcolm’s Stores banner, has taken time to get to know his customers and as such has recognised an opening for Asian vegetables and spices, including fresh ginger, chilli and garlic.
He says these are now some of his best-selling lines.
Vince Maloney, who owns three Budgens stores in and around Ascot, Berkshire, chooses to sell more exotic fruits such as coconut, mangoes, pineapples and apricots.
“We did try taking this one step further with the addition of dragon fruits, but they didn’t really catch on,” adds Vince.
Making effort to get to know what your audience wants will not only please them, but reduce your wastage, too, one of the main worries when creating a fresh offering.
How to increases fresh sales
Stock a balance of loose and pre-packed fruit and vegetables: It is vital to have the right mix of pre-packed and loose produce, tailored to suit the store and its customer base
Ensure your range covers all key areas across produce: This will give you a comprehensive offer for your customers. “Retailers can then build on this by identifying good value lines to add to this range,” says Paul Freemantle, trading controller of fresh produce and flowers at Spar
Stock only top quality produce : According to HIM, 48% of convenience shoppers say that the quality of the fruit and vegetables in store is important to them
Bring fresh to the front of the store: Placing fresh at the front of a store creates an unmissable and eye-catching display, and if it can be seen through the window at the front of the shop, even better, as this will help to entice customers in
Make the displays eye-catching: Presenting your produce on wooden tables or in wooden baskets with full and healthy-looking produce will attract more customers and they will be more likely to make a purchase
Make sure the displays are well managed: Poor-quality products will turn shoppers off: “Ensure that the area is well maintained, disposing of any product that doesn’t look fresh - always adopt ‘would I Buy It’,” advises Freemantle
Place stock according to shelf life: “Those items with long shelf lives should be displayed towards the back,” says Steve Carter, senior category controller of fresh and chilled at Bestway, “pulling forward anything towards the end of its fresh cycle.”
Get creative: Many retailers develop their own promotions and design POS to support them. Using chalkboards for signage is one idea many retailers are adopting
Cross-promotions: “Look at offering multilinks,” says Carter. “Create promotions for the barbecue season by offering a meat and veg combination such as burgers and onions at a fixed price.”
Add fruit to your lunchtime meal deals: “As the UK becomes more health conscious this is a fantastic way to increase sales of singles,” says Carter.
Fresh for Less
Spar has seen success from revamping its Fresh for less initiative, offering four of the most commonly-bought items in pricemarked packs of 79p. This includes a six-pack of gala apples, a five-pack of small bananas, 1kg of brown onions and 750g of baby potatoes.
Spar advertised the offer on national TV during April 22 and May 4 and Philippe Rondepierre, head of marketing at Spar, reports a subsequent uplift in sales. “As a result of the campaign the performance of fruit - in particular, bananas - was great. Like-for-like retail sales for fruit are up 19%, bananas are up 34%, apples and pears are up 12%, and fruit and vegetables in total are up 10%.”
Julian Taylor-Green of Taylor-Green’s Spar in Lindford, Hampshire, is a fan of the scheme. “The pricemarked range allows us to have not only quality products, but at a price comparable to the multiples, and in many instances cheaper. Backed by the Spar name, it supports us in growing this key footfall driving category, and has helped us see significant sales growth.”