Six ways to beef up sales of pomegranates and attract first-time buyers to the category.
The pomegranate, nicknamed the ‘king of fruits’ because of its crown-shaped stem, once ruled over a small space on U.S. supermarket shelves. That place also proved highly seasonal.
Then, a savvy turn-of-the-century marketing campaign and research revealing pomegranates are full of disease-preventing nutrients propelled this regal red fruit onto Americans’ radar. The first product to hit the market in a big way was pomegranate juice. More recently, a greater availability of the whole fruit as well as grab-and-go forms of the seeds inside, have made the pomegranate a crowd favorite.
“Our customers know that pomegranates, and in particular the pomegranate arils, are classified as a super fruit and contain dietary antioxidants,” says John Savidan, senior director of produce and floral at Gelson’s Markets, a 27-store chain headquartered in Encino, CA. “They are taking advantage of these little gems by adding them to salads, smoothies and just as a daily snack item.”
The key to selling more pomegranates is to offer this fruit year-round in fresh and value-added forms. It’s also imperative to customize merchandising and promotional tactics to take advantage of the fruit’s regal appearance, flavor, nutritional profile and versatility throughout the year as well as during its peak domestic season. Here’s how:
GIVE THEM A YEAR-ROUND HOME
Pomegranates are not seasonal anymore. Imported fruit has made them a daily staple for many of Gelson’s customers, says Savidan. “We align ourselves with partners and suppliers who can deliver quality product that we can capitalize on. Having a year-round pomegranate program, and in particular fresh arils, is a commitment we are happy to provide.”
California produces more than 90 percent of the pomegranates grown in the United States, according to data from the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, in Ames, IA. A few other states have small growing regions in Arizona, Utah, Nevada and Georgia.
“Domestic fresh whole pomegranates from California’s Central Valley are available from mid-August through December/January,” says Ray England, vice president of marketing for the DJ Forry Co., in Pismo Beach, CA.
Approximately 30 percent of California’s crop — and virtually all of the initial fruit — are early-season varieties such as Granada and Foothill, according to Tom Tjerandsen, the Sonoma, CA-based manager of the Pomegranate Council. By early to mid-October, the sought-after Wonderful variety begins harvest.
“We will bring some pomegranates in prior to the Wonderful variety hitting the market but will hold off on big promotions until these start shipping,” says Randy Bohaty, produce director for B&R Stores, an 18-location chain based in Lincoln, NE, which operates under the Russ’s Markets, Super Saver, Apple Market and Save Best Foods banners. “We do try to use large — not the largest size — in order to have a nice piece of fruit with a manageable price point.”
Whole pomegranates are generally sold in 20-, 24- and 36-count packs. Companies such as King Fresh Produce LLC, headquartered in Dinuba, CA, offer a variety of pack styles: 1-layer export club pack, 2-layer tri-wall bins, Euro packs and 20/3-count sleeves. The fruit is sometimes also sold in 2-layer, 6-pack trays or Euro trays.
Organic fruit is available, says Jeff Simonian, president of the Simonian Fruit Company, in Fowler, CA, “but it is fairly limited and devoted to stores that specialize in organics. Peak volume is in October and November.”
There is a bit of a gap early in the year, until pomegranates start from Peru. “The imported fruit sold in the United States during this time is from Chile, and perhaps some from Argentina, where irradiation isn’t required for the whole fruit’s entry,” says DJ Forry’s England. “These sources will take us to the August time period for domestic.”
In recent years, there have been many new varieties introduced and numerous countries now growing pomegranates. For this reason, says Rene Millburn, public relations director for King Fresh Produce, “there has been a significant growth in both production and consumption. In general, consumers in the Northeast, West and South regions of the United States tend to purchase more pomegranates overall. Asian and Hispanic consumers are the most likely ethnic group to purchase.”
One of the biggest challenges to selling whole pomegranates is a lack of knowledge by shoppers about how to extract the inner arils, or juice-sac surrounded seeds.
“Our grab-and-go consumer pack does all the hard work of extracting the arils and even includes a spoon under the lid,” says Stefanie Katzman, of S. Katzman Produce and Katzman Berry Corp., in the Bronx, NY, which distributes its pomegranate arils under the brand BloomFresh in three sizes: 2.1-ounce cup, 4.4-ounce cup and 2.2-pound bag.
More consumers soon may get turned on to pomegranates via arils used in foodservice. For example, the Trinity Fruit Company, in Fresno, CA, introduced a 2-pound bag of arils (sold 3 bags to a case) at the Produce Marketing Association’s Foodservice Show in Monterey, CA, in July. This bag also can be used by fresh-cut operators to make mixed fruit cups or single-serve products such as yogurt, granola and aril topper, according to Levon Ganajian, director of retail relations.
“Consider that a green salad that sells for $6 can easily be sold for $7 with a dozen or so pomegranate arils on top,” says the Pomegranate Council’s Tjerandsen.
Another challenge with fresh arils is shelf life and refrigeration, says Katzman. “We combat this by bringing in several shipments a week in order to keep product fresh.”
Arils are available year-round, typically without gaps that occur with the whole fruit.
“Our arils predominately come from Peru and India, but they are also available during the domestic season out of California,” says Leslie Simmons, vice president of Dave’s Specialty Imports, in Medley, FL. “We are seeing increased plans for arils out of Chile and Argentina in the coming year. A majority of the arils are conventional.”
INTRODUCE A DRIED SKU
Freeze-dried pomegranate arils have been on the market for a while. However, Katzman says, “we wanted something that maintained the integrity and kept all the flavor and nutritional value in the product. Our growers in India developed a unique process that slowly dried the arils, which keeps them intact.”
The company offers 20-gram single-serve and 50-gram snack-size bags of dried pomegranate arils, which consumers can add to salads, yogurt, oatmeal and baked goods.
DISPLAY POMS PROMINENTLY
Studies show 25 percent of shoppers have tried pomegranates, according to Trinity Fruit Company’s Ganajian. “These are usually people of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern or Asian background. In other words, 75 percent of American consumers either haven’t tried or don’t know what a pomegranate is. The future sales potential is huge.”
The first way to make this introduction is through prominent displays.
“Fresh pomegranates, and arils in particular, are so vibrant in color that it makes it easy for us to showcase them,” says Gelson’s Savidan. “Immaculate, hand-stacked displays, along with the sizing and color, make them destination points that are hard to pass up as a shopper. Calling out attributes such as ‘organic’ and ‘superfruit’ also helps attract customers who may have not been necessarily looking to purchase them.”
Savidan adds, “There are times that are better for pushing pomegranates and arils where we can wow our guests. Large island or cube displays filled with whole fruit, flanked with a wing display filled with fresh arils on ice usually does the trick.”
Companies such as POM Wonderful, LLC, the Los Angeles-headquartered world’s largest integrated producer of the Wonderful variety of pomegranates, have created bins for freestanding displays of fresh pomegranates. These are what Bohaty at B&R Stores uses to boost sales of the fruit, especially in the fall.
“We ship the fruit right from the plant to retail in the bins in either quarter- or half-pallet size,” says Adam Cooper, senior vice president of marketing. “More than half of consumers purchase pomegranates on impulse. Bins offer a point of interruption in the department as well as in the front lobby and can increase the incremental velocity of fruit sales as a result.”
Companies such as Trinity Fruit offer high-graphic bins that educate consumers about how to open the fruit and its health benefits.
“If there is no place for a freestanding, off-shelf display, then I would recommend a spillover for an inline display,” suggests DJ Forry’s England.
Pomegranate displays near berries, grapes, pears, persimmons, and other fall fruits also can increase the likelihood of purchases, according to King Fresh’s Millburn.
Whole pomegranates don’t require refrigerated displays, but arils do.
“One of the most successful placements for arils is in the berry cooler,” says POM Wonderful’s Cooper.
Bohaty, at B&R Stores, displays arils in the fresh-cut fruit section. King Fresh’s Millburn suggest putting them near the bagged salads.
EDUCATE SHOPPERS & STAFF
Education is key to sales, according to King Fresh Produce’s Millburn and includes: “sampling stations for taste; how-to recipe cards and details to cut/de-seed; health benefit [placards]; freestanding inserts with coupons; and cross-marketing with pomegranate juice, marinades, salsas, salad dressing/croutons.”
Some shippers offer POS materials to put on their bulk bins that give the consumers recipe ideas and nutritional information.
It’s also a good idea to educate retail produce managers about variations in the fruit’s flavor and appearance through the year, as there are different varieties and growing areas, suggests King Fresh’s Millburn. “We provide our retail partners with sell sheets so they have bullet point information on selling points and frequently asked questions. We also keep them informed on market conditions so they can explain price changes, supply issues and differences in taste.”
PRICE & PROMOTE
Pomegranates aren’t price-sensitive. That said — it’s wise for retailers to take advantage of pricing opportunities with the natural ebb and flow of supply-and-demand conditions.
“In my opinion, pomegranates should be looked at as an incremental sales and profit opportunity,” says DJ Forry’s England. “Offer the fruit at an attractive price point. For example, if a jumbo/large pomegranate lands at store level with a $1.70 each cost, then I suggest a retail of 2/$5.00.”
Growers and shippers say arils mix in well with berry promotions.
Holidays such as Rosh Hashanah, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas are the best times to promote, according to Simonian Fruit Company’s Simonian. “So, basically every month during the fall.”
The fall domestic season is an especially good time to promote. This is when companies such as POM Wonderful launch a multi-million-dollar marketing campaign.
“A trifecta of prominent bin displays, ads and a good price point will move fruit fast,” says Cooper.