Once a niche exotic fruit, Protected Denomination of Origin (PDO) Spanish Persimon has become one of the fastest-growing fruit lines in the UK. Since arriving in limited volume on UK supermarket shelves during 2005, today around 30 million units (approximately 10,000 tonnes) are sold per season. The story doesn’t end there, however. Here, PBUK takes a look at how effective merchandising, marketing and menu planning could raise sales even further.
As with avocado, the delicately flavoured Persimon is highly versatile for use in both sweet and savoury recipes. Meanwhile, its bright orange, autumnal colouring and attractive, natural ‘star-etched’ interior give the fruit a special place for linking with seasonal celebrations.
“It’s a phenomenal growth story,” comments John Valentine, managing director of RED Communications, the agency that works to promote Spanish Persimon in the UK together with the Kaki de la Ribera del Xúquer regulatory council, which governs the fruit’s PDO status, and Foods from Spain.
“Persimon now often outsells fruits, including mangoes and kiwis, when in season from October to the end of December. Whilst sales are very strong, there are many people who still haven’t tried the fruit, or know what Persimon is, so there’s still plenty to do!”
Clever merchandising is proving key to the product’s increasing acceptance among UK consumers.
Persimon is emerging as a key item for the Christmas grocery basket. “Retailers are viewing it as a seasonal Christmas line in the same way as citrus and dates,” Valentine notes.
Cross-merchandising Persimon with autumn and winter seasonal items is another strategy that retailers can adopt to drive sales each year. “Where you’ve got a theme like Christmas, you can put those products together with Persimon,” Valentine says. “It’s a very aesthetic fruit; it looks great and it’s colour is very autumnal, like citrus, which Persimon could sit alongside.”
And if the production season continues post-Christmas, which is the expectation for the 2019/20 crop, retailers and foodservice operators can harness the New Year healthy eating drive to encourage further sales.
“Persimon is really good to push for the January healthy eating drive,” explains Pippa Moore, account manager at RED Communications. “Vitamin C, Vitamin A and fibre are the three main nutritional properties of Persimon, along with antioxidants. There are many health benefits.”
Location is also important when merchandising Persimon, with feature-end space, and off-fixture display units proving particularly successful. Indeed, point-of-sale presentation has overtaken the use of on-pack information labels.
“Free-standings units are terrific,” notes Valentine. “A lot of retailers are placing Persimon on promotional ends; we’ve seen that in Tesco and Aldi. They’re doing it because Persimon is a very attractive fruit; it can hit key price points, and it’s a volume seller. When the season’s in full swing, like now, it outsells pineapples and mangoes.
“This season we’ve created free-standing units with Morrisons, which are currently in 425 stores nationwide,” continues Valentine. “The point-of-sale graphics are Christmas themed, and the displays are very much part of the build up to Christmas at Morrisons.”
Of course, ‘Star of Valencia’ – the strapline for Persimon – has strong Christmas connotations. “If you cut open Persimon, internally you’ll see an outline of a star,” explains Valentine. “The strapline adds to the product.
“Persimon has a relatively short season, it only comes from Valencia and it’s a completely different product to Sharon fruit. [The Rojo Brillante variety, which is indigenous to Valencia, is longer and larger]. When in season, Persimon will outsell Sharon fruit 10 to one. The PDO quality seal has a lot of real value. UK customers like to know where their fruit is coming from, and we promote that on pack.”
Sampling is another merchandising tactic that operators can use to promote the flavour, value and uses of Persimon. Costco, for example, is offering in-store sampling this season.
Ultimately, Valentine says the answer to selling more Persimon is shelf space and price. “Most retailers target £1.00 for the three-pack [of Persimon], and that seems to be a very compelling price point,” he explains. “Aldi often includes Spanish Persimon in its Super Six [weekly promotional] offer, and invests its own margin to do this. The promotion is also supported by Aldi’s social media activity.”
The introduction of pre-packed smaller fruit, as opposed to loose product, has also had a big impact on sales.
“Selling three Persimon together is the key,” states Valentine. “At first, retailers were just selling the fruit loose. Pre-packed has really uplifted the whole category. It’s a value thing. Three in a pack works very well. It’s also gives the opportunity to take a broader range of the crop; to take all the sizes. The actual weight of the three-pack varies depending on the size of the fruit in any given season.”
As well as retailers looking for direction to guide their shoppers to usage occasions, this year’s new recipes are designed to inspire foodservice operators to incorporate Persimon on their menus.
“There is definitely room for foodservice operators to drive sales too,” Moore comments. “It’s just a case of educating chefs about how they can use Persimon because it’s a really fun product that’s economical to buy, and offers so much versatility.”
Moore points out that Persimon can be enjoyed as a snack or added to salads, cakes, porridge, casseroles, and tarts, among other dishes. “Persimon has a sweet, delicate flavour similar to a peach or a mango, and it makes the perfect snack as it doesn’t require any peeling and doesn’t contain a stone,” she explains.
Indeed, Valentine says the appeal of Persimon is broad. “It’s certainly a great fruit for kids; they love it. But Persimon is good for anyone. You can eat it whole like an apple, chop it up for salads, or cook with it.”
For Christmas, Moore suggests both foodservice operators and retailers take inspiration from the various new recipes, such as the Persimon and Mozzarella Salad for an alternative Christmas starter, the Persimon twist on a traditional Christmas pudding, or the Star of Valencia Persimon Shortbread.
“Since it’s so sweet, Persimon often pares well with anything salty,” adds Moore. “Cured ham works really well, and, obviously, any cheeses, plus we have a recipe for a Spicy Persimon Chutney to go with cheese. Because of its PDO status, we feature other Spanish PDO products like Manchego cheese and Ibérico ham a lot in our recipe creation.”
Of course, Spanish restaurants in the UK are more accustomed to using Persimon. During the 2017 campaign, RED linked up with various London-based restaurants such as Ibérica, Pizarro and The Providores, as well as The Vincent Rooms at Westminster Kingsway College, who all featured Persimon on their menus.
“We do receive a lot more interest from Spanish restaurants but we are continuing to educate young chefs about Persimon, particularly through the support of Westminster Kingsway,” notes Moore.
Additionally, this season, foodie website Great British Chefs is showcasing the benefits of cooking with Persimon, including bespoke recipe creation; adverts and banners on the website, and social media activity plus competitions. Advertisements and publicity are also running in Chef and Restaurant magazine.
Growers expect to produce 150,000 tonnes of PDO Spanish Persimon this season, an increase on last year when hailstorms and frosts cut volume by 25%. Improved growing conditions have resulted in a high-quality crop and normal sizes for the 2019/20 campaign. Availability for the UK will continue through to the end of January 2020, with approximately 10,000 tonnes forecast to be sold. The remainder of the crop will be distributed to Germany, France, Italy and Spain.