According to a 2014 Nielsen Global Survey, 91 percent of Americans say that they snack daily. Coupled with the current trend of eating healthy, a new c-store category has taken shape and begun to grow. According to Nielsen’s “Snack Occasions and Trend Spotting,” from September of 2014, fresh fruit tied chocolate as the top snack selected out of 32 different snack options offered. Vegetables were not too far behind and fell just below ice cream and gelato. US convenience store produce sales increased 10.3 percent to $362 million in 2014, nearly four times the overall 2.7 percent growth rate of US produce sales.
Fresh fruit goes beyond the typical c-store procedure of ordering non-perishable packaged goods and putting them on a shelf to sell. C-stores need to look at produce in a different way, and suppliers and distributors should help retailers in the navigation. “We want our retailers to be successful. That starts with educating them on this new and emerging category and making sure they understand that category,” says Sharon Kuncl, vice president of merchandising at Eby-Brown.
Suppliers and retailers must first figure out whether or not a fresh produce program fits in with a particular store. While it’s definitely a consideration for all c-stores, some retailers might not be in the right environment for a fresh program to flourish. “Because each location is unique, we need to talk to them about where fresh fits into that landscape,” Kuncl says. “If we determine that the store is fit for fresh, we want to continue that conversation by talking about their fresh commitment.”
When working with retailers on a fresh fruit program, producers and suppliers must make sure their customers understand how the program will work in the store. Customers need to know the differences between a fresh fruits and the c-store products they are used to working with. “It’s going to take an amount of time to make this category profitable,” Kuncl says. “It’s going to take somewhere between 30 and 90 days to actually make profit versus loss. We want to make sure that our retailer knows what they’re getting into on the front end and that they’re committed to fresh, long term.”
To maintain good business on the retailer and producer/supplier ends, it’s important for suppliers to provide their retail customers with any tools and advice at the supplier’s disposal. A retailer that sees success as soon as possible and can grow the fresh fruit business will continue to use the supplier that helped them get there. A company that offers its customers all the resources it has proliferates the fresh fruit category overall which leads to growth for everyone involved.
Merchandising for a fresh program is one of the most important aspects of operating a fresh program in the c-store. We want to make sure retailers have the right floor displays, counter racks, storage and refrigeration necessary to support whatever fresh products that we’re going to be bringing through that location, Kuncl says.