As greater volume arrives from Spain this season, UK retailers are encouraged to market the stalkless variety as healthy, versatile, affordable, seasonal and unique.
The European Picota cherry season is underway in the UK, with excellent quality fruit already arriving from the Valle del Jerte (Jerte Valley) in Spain. The UK remains the biggest importer of the fruit, and retailers only have until August to maximise sales of this unique, handpicked, and stalkless cherry variety. PBUK takes a look at the key merchandising tools and marketing tips that UK retailers can utilise to engage with their shoppers this summer.
UK supermarket operators will have at least 25 per cent more Picota cherries to sell this season, in comparison to 2020. After a very positive start, growers hope to supply the UK with 4 million (m) kilogrammes (kg) of the fruit in 2021, a doubling of the export tally achieved in 2019.
“Picota cherry exports to the UK are growing year on year,” explains Miguel Ángel Durán, Director of the Agrupación de Cooperativas del Valle del Jerte (the Picota cherry growers’ association in Extremadura). “In 2019, 2m kg of Picotas were sold in the UK, and, in 2020, this increased to a further 3.75m kg.”
The exclusive cherry variety is becoming increasingly well-known and appreciated by UK consumers; giving retailers ample reasons to market the fruit during its short, six-week season.
“Volume is always strong for Picota cherries as it’s a unique product that can add great sales to the cherry category,” points out Peter Brazil, National Account Manager at J.O. Sims , an important supplier of Picota cherries to UK supermarket operators.
To sell large volumes this season, retailers are advised to give Picotas front-of-store seasonal space either on gondola ends or off fixtures via free-standing display units (FSDUs), suggests John Valentine, Managing Director of RED Communications, the PR agency which organises the UK’s annual Picota cherry consumer campaign in coordination with the Agrupación de Cooperativas del Valle del Jerte, and with aid from the European Union.
RED has implemented ‘branded shroud units’ to display Picotas in the past, which have often seen a significant impact on sales. On-pack labels have proved to be a successful marketing strategy previously too.
“This season we are launching 450 front-of-store shrouded banners in Morrisons’ stores across the UK, which will be present in stores until 25 July,” Valentine reveals. “Offering promotions and giving the product priority space in store, such as in this particular activity, will help to drive Picota volumes throughout the season. They are stunningly beautiful with their crimson colour and round shape, and make a fantastic statement if positioned prominently at the entrance to the store.”
Morrisons’ objective is to sell more units year-on-year, and, subject to crop availability, to extend the season versus 2020.
“We have found that the shrouds work very well to drive volume in store,” Emma Spencer, Senior Buying Manager for Berries at Morrisons, tells PBUK. “They are used as a vehicle to communicate the provenance and price messaging to our customers, and we hope to grow on the success of previous seasons.”
Brazil at J.O. Sims agrees that the opportunities for growing Picota cherry sales lie with allocating more space to the fruit, as well as selling off unit. “Picotas will always be a central point at many of the retailers because it’s a superb product with great value,” he comments.
Promote Nutrition, Convenience & Value
Cherries are generally considered to be one of the most indulgent and exclusive fruits, yet they are very healthy and contain no added sugars. Picota cherries, therefore, offer UK retailers a great opportunity to market the fruit as a healthy seasonal treat for summer, especially for women, families and children.
“Although there is no concrete research, our view is that Picotas are one of the more sophisticated fruits, and we do see them as having a slightly female bias,” reveals Valentine. “However, anyone can enjoy Picota cherries, and children, in particular, can have lots of fun with this fantastic, small and healthy snack.”
Morrisons’ shoppers look forward to the start of the Picota cherry season, says Spencer.
“The competitive retail price encourages customers to shop the category who may not ordinarily,” she comments.
Valentine agrees that Picotas are currently priced very competitively, especially when considering their unique selling point as a stalkless, easy-to-eat variety.
“Picota cherries provide excellent value for money when taking into account their flavour and excellent European quality,” he says. “They are priced at around £1.00 per 250 gram (g) pack in most retailers.”
While Picotas are sold in 250g packs, RED considers that larger family-sized packs such as 1kg packs, would work well also for those looking for excellent value summer snacking.
Highlighting the versatility of cherries as an ingredient could also be improved by UK retailers. Cherries can be positioned as a celebratory-worthy treat too. This season retailers could associate the fruit with high-class events, such as: Wimbledon and the Olympics.
“Generally, much of the UK views cherries purely as a snacking fruit, but there are so many ways to enjoy them,” says Valentine. “I think retailers need to educate consumers about the various ways the fruit can be used. Some of the recipes we’ve created for the Picota campaign include: cherry-based Gin & Tonic, ice cream, salads, scones, flapjacks, energy balls and salsas for fish.
“The past year has seen the home cooking process slow down significantly: consumers have come to enjoy taking their time over meal preparation, and see preparing and cooking with Picota cherries as an activity for the whole family to get involved with. This is something that retailers could promote.”
Use Social Media
Following the major uplift in online sales during the first lockdown, other marketing ideas include running online advertising on retailers’ websites that click through to the Picota cherry product. Likewise, the fruit can be promoted on retailers’ social media channels, and even via bloggers or chef recipe collaborations.
“The window for Picota cherries is short, so highlighting the fruit’s exclusivity from the beginning of June on social media just before the start of the season gives consumers a reason to get excited about them,” Valentine notes. “The ruby-coloured Picota also conveys a sense of opulence, making them very aesthetic and marketable as a treat on social media channels, such as Instagram.”
This season, RED and Agrupación de Cooperativas del Valle del Jerte has collaborated with the UK’s top food bloggers to encourage usage amongst consumers, through recipe inspiration on their blogs and social media channels. Retailers and consumers can follow the action by following the @PickaPicotafromEurope handle on Facebook , Instagram and YouTube .
Another virtue worth marketing to retail shoppers is the fact that Picotas are steeped in tradition. Added to that, they have the unique proposition of being Europe’s only cherry to be sold naturally without a stalk.
“The Picota cherry story is noteworthy,” Valentine points out. “These cherries have been traditionally grown for centuries on the steep slopes of the mountain in the European Jerte Valley.”
Picotas are indigenous to and grown exclusively within the Jerte Valley, which lies 200 kilometres west of Madrid in Spain’s Northern Extremadura region. As such, the fruit has been awarded a prestigious European Denomination of Origin (DO) seal that ensures consistent, exceptional quality. “Picotas are a firm, crisp cherry, and deliciously sweet,” Valentine explains. “Generally, they also boast a much better shelf-life compared with other cherries.”
The fruit is picked by hand only when the cherries have matured to perfection on the tree. The stalk is left on the tree, and the fruit only comes away from its stalk once it has reached optimum ripeness.
As of this year, Picotas are being rebranded as European Picota cherries under the Pick a Picota campaign , which is being funded partially by the European Union. “This year’s rebranding is a subtle evolution of the Picota image so customers will still be able to easily recognise a much-loved seasonal treat,” Valentine assures.
“The rebranding in advertisements and PR will look new and modern to consumers whilst retaining the traditional Picota values, so retailers should view this as a very positive adjustment to the presentation of the product. The European angle also aligns the Picota cherry production with the renewed focus on the European quality and traceability that is associated with the Picota variety.”
The main objective of the 2021 European Picota Cherry campaign is to raise awareness of the traditional, healthy, and sustainable harvesting methods used by the Valle del Jerte. This is designed to make UK shoppers are aware of the unique characteristics and benefits of Picotas as a quality European product.
As well as the retail sector, the 2021 campaign will target the UK foodservice industry. Picotas will be promoted in publications that are aimed towards the catering and hospitality industry.
While J.O. Sims is focused on the supermarket supply of Picotas, Brazil from J.O. Sims is convinced other sectors could do more with the product. “Foodservice, I’m sure, could do a great job with this product, especially if suitable partners are found,” he suggests.
All in all, UK buyers can enjoy a bumper crop of Picotas to merchandise and market this season. Quality is said to be excellent due to “very favourable” weather conditions in the Jerte Valley this year. “The fruit is very slightly larger in size than normal, and has an attractive, bright ruby colour, with a satisfyingly crunchy texture,” concludes Durán from the Agrupación de Cooperativas del Valle del Jerte.