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Produce sampling is important selling tool at Ralphs.

While the deli, bakery, dairy and other sections generate excitement through product sampling, its sales-building powers have been neglected in the produce department. According to Kerry Hodges, director of produce merchandising at Ralphs Grocery Company, that is a big mistake.

"We, as an industry, have not been aggressive enough in promoting our produce at store level," begins Hodges. "We should sample products as extensively as any department in the store. Demo-ing fruits and vegetables is something we are becoming excited about at Ralphs."

Although Ralphs has sporadically sampled produce for many years, the sampling was a hit-or-miss operation. If either a produce merchandiser or a department manager wished to demo an item, he would go ahead, upon approval of the store manager.

"We never discouraged store managers from sampling, but we didn't encourage them either," says Hodges. That policy of passive indifference to produce sampling changed during 1983 as Ralphs became more aware of the benefits of in-store promotion of fruits and vegetables.

The basis for the chain's reborn interest in produce sampling lies in the radically different produce sections in Ralphs "Superstore." To highlight the just-picked quality of the produce, Ralphs abandoned its hand-stacked tables and went with dump displays in bins.

"Customers perceive our produce to be fresher because of the farm market merchandising approach," Hodges says. "They are spending extra time in produce because the merchandising makes the department more exciting to shop."

During 1983, Ralphs opened 19 "Superstores." As part of the excitement-generating events of each grand opening, a demo was conducted in the produce department. "I was amazed at how the demos boosted item sales during the grand openings," observes Hodges.

The scheduling of all sampling is handled by Dorothy Jacobi, who heads Ralphs' demo department. Jacobi ascertains what is required at the store, then requests demonstrators from a Los Angeles firm. Most demos are scheduled for Thursday, Friday and Saturday; demonstrators set up between 10 a.m. and noon, and close their stations between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m.

According to Hodges, most produce sampling involves the products of major suppliers, such as Dole, Del Monte or Chiquita. Suppliers usually provide the fruits or vegetables to be sampled at no extra cost.

"The people with branded products often take the initiative in encouraging sampling. The problem in produce is that there are many suppliers of some items--one company does not want to pay to promote its competitors' brand as well as its own," Hodges points out. To bypass this problem, Hodges believes that growers' associations and commodity groups should become more actively involved in in-store sampling.

"Recipes are extremely effective when used at point-of-sale to promote movement of a particular product," Hodges says. "Imagine how effective that recipe could be if a demonstrator was stationed there preparing the dish.

"The number of items that could be demonstrated in produce is virtually unlimited. Many products can simply be sliced, put out on a tray and eaten fresh. Others can be cooked on a hot plate or wok and served in cups.

"You'd be surprised at the boost given to a product like bananas as a result of sampling," notes Hodges. "We've offered customers a taste of banana fritters, frozen bananas and other out-of-the-ordinary preparations of that basic fruit. When people see how easy it is to prepare bananas in different ways, they buy more.

"Specialty items really benefit from sampling. At several stores last summer, we cut jicama into pieces, put a toothpick in it and offered samples with dip. People were amazed that such an ugly vegetable could make such a tasty hors d'oeuvre. Sales skyrocketed and we've held a 10% increase in jicama movement at those stores." Hodges reports that the sampling, sales of strong movers usually double, movement of unusual items triple or quadruple.

Hodges plans to develop an effective, chainwide program to produce sampling in 1984. He concludes, "I expect to have at least one demo per month per store this year. An organized sampling program can convince people to buy more of the multitude of fruits and vegetables available at Ralphs." Juice Tree Introduces First Machine for In-House Squeezing of Grapefruit

Juice Tree helped answer consumer demands for pure products and natural vitamins with its trend-setting, state-of-the-art orange juice machine. Now it has developed the entirely new Juice Tree Grapefruit Machine.

The Juice Tree Model 105G Grapefruit Machine is designed to squeeze 80 quarts of juice per hour and has a reservoir that holds 10 quarts of freh juice. The feed hopper easily accepts a full 40-pound carton of fruit at one loading. The machine instantly adjust to squeeze fruit sizes 80 through 36 or up to 4-1/2 inch diameter. No skilled help is needed to operate and maintain the equipment. Cleaning the machine takes only 10 minutes and no tools are needed.

Juice Tree Inc., reports that major chains including Kroger, Grand Union and A&P have purchased over 250 machines and report excellent results. For information, contact Juice Tree, Inc., 12151 Monarch St., Garden Grove, CA 92641 (714) 891-4425. Latest Testing Shows Potatoes Are More Nutririous Than Ever

There may be doom and gloom about different foods causing this or that health problem, but recent testing shows that the potato is even more nutritious than previously thought. Consider the findings: A 150-gram potato (about 3 pound) has only 100 calories, is virtually fat and sodium free, but has 750 mg. of potassium and 765 mg. of crude fiber. The new testing also shows the potato to have 50 percent of the Recommended Daily Allowance of Vitamin C, and 20 percent of the RDA of Vitamin B6. The nutritional testing was performed by the Hazelton Labs. of Madison, Wisconsin, the largest food composition laboratory in the U.S.

"We want people to be aware that besides being delicious, the potato is nutrient dense (you receive a high number of nutrients per calorie)," says Bob Mercer, executive vice president of the Potato Board. "Many doctors and nutritionists are telling their patients to go on diets high in fiber and grains and low in fats and sodium, and obviously, potatoes should have a major place on these diets."

The Potato Board Merchandising Office in Sherman Oaks, California has new production stats showing the revised nutritional information. These stats are suitable for printing on paper, poly, or any kind of board stock. New nutritional cards and brochures will be preinted this summer. For further information contact The Potato Board, 1385 South Colorado Blvd., Suite #512, Denver, CO 80222. Summer Fruits Training Presentation Available

A retail training presentation concerning fresh nectarines, plums, peaches and Bartlett pears is now available through California Tree Fruit Agreement, the Sacramento-based federal marketing order organization.

Specifically designed for in-store produce personnel, the presentation's components include 80 individual 35 mm color slides, pre-inserted in a standard Kodak carousel; two cassette tapes, one incorporating audible "beeps" for manual use, the other inaudible "beeps" for automatic equipment; and a complete script, keyed for manual use. Length of the presentation is just under 20 minutes.

Subjects discussed include rotation, displays, merchandising, sizing, varieties, peak supply periods, shipping containers and harvesting.

For further information, produce executives with training responsibilities may contact local California Summer Fruits field representatives or Chas H. Sanderson, California Tree Fruit Agreement, P.O. Box 255383, Sacramento, CA 95865.

California Tree Fruit Agreement, which administers quality-control as well as promotional programs, recently completed its 50th year of operations. Blue Anchor Preparing for Early, Big Fresh Summer Fruit Season

Retailers will have earlier and likely larger volume supplies of fresh deciduous fruits this spring and summer, according to Blue Anchor, Inc., the largest marketer of California fresh deciduous tree fruits and table grapes.

A sharp expansion in Mexican peaches will make fresh fruit available as early as mid-April, with these high-quality peaches being marketed for the Mexican growers by Blue Anchor, Inc.

These early peaches will be followed by the first fresh cherry shipments in early May from the Lodi district of central California. This year's early, warm spring weather is expected to produce a cherry crop two to three times larger than last year--providing retailers with an excellent early-season merchandising opportunity. This same favorable growing weather is expected to advance the harvesting date of early-season California peaches, plums and nectarines by as much as a week ahead of last year.

Retailers can obtain information on all fresh deciduous fruit crops as the season develops by phoning Blue Anchor, Inc. at (916) 929-3050, or by writing P.O. Box 15498, Sacramento, CA 95851. IBA Unveils Logo. Summer Promo in Final Planning Stages

The International Banana Association unveiled its official logo, to be used in IBA printed matter, including, stationery, advertising and public relations, displays, etc., according to IBA President, Robert M. Moore. "We felt the banana industry's association needed a vivid graphic identification," Moore said, "and we hope to make this logo familiar to people both inside and outside the produce industry."

Coinciding with the announcement of the new logo, Moore also reports that an "aggressive and multi-faceted" IBA summer retail promotion is now in the final planning stages. The purpose of the promotion, Moore claims, is to improve the banana industry's competitive position during the summer months and show that bananas are as profitable then as during the rest of the year.

The IBA reports the summer program will include POS kits, one on bananas alone and one on the summer promotion, and will include national trade and consumer advertising, to be supported by an ambitious marketing program to trade. Identifying "RIPE" Avocados can Increases Sales by 100% and More

Retailer can increase avocado sales by 100% and more simply by identifying ready-to-serve avocados with ripe stickers, according to the California Avocado Commission. In a recent survey, the Commission has found shoppers prefer ripe avocados 25 to 1 over hard fruit.

The Commission is providing free "RIPE" stickers for retailers, along with complete instructions for establishing warehouse and backroom ripening programs for California avocados. Display posters identifying ripe avocados are also available for retailers.

Retailers will receive heavy consumer advertising support during the spring and summer months, in leading consumer magazines. A detailed program for merchandising assistance is available. For information, write The California Avocado Commission, 17620 Fitch, Irvine, CA 92714.
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Publication:Progressive Grocer
Date:Apr 1, 1984
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