Potatoes and onions provide a constant opportunity for cross-merchandising and upselling. Their presentation can be flexible, allowing retailers to tailor approaches to, and drive sales in, the often-conjoined categories on a local, and even store-by-store, basis.
Just how to merchandise and promote the two separate, but not-to-be-casually-separated, categories can be accomplished in many ways. Retailers and industry-leading commissions across the United States do it exceptionally well.
For Seasons, in Flushing, NY, Zeke Kreitner, the company’s chief produce officer and manager of the Five Towns store in Long Island’s Nassau County, says presentation in potatoes and onions is important particularly if you are emphasizing quality for a customer base who will pay for it.
The bulk displays are constantly filled and maintained at Seasons, and potatoes and onions are presented to attract attention and project freshness. “You want the people to walk in and say, ‘Wow, this is nice,’” he says. “The look of the department gives people a vibe of the quality.”
Potatoes and onions are merchandised across the aisle from each other, but they are color-striped, with squash and cucumbers at one end of the onion presentation, and beets and garlic, including bagged black garlic, are above potatoes.
While space is limited at Seasons, it’s far more abundant at 3 Guys from Brooklyn. Located in Brooklyn, NY, the store offers massive outdoor displays wrapped around the building. However, they are largely devoid of onions and potatoes except for a few popular-sized bagged examples of the top sellers.
Inside the store, the story is different, with massive bulk displays that use a degree of color striping, but also integrate garlic and more ethnic-oriented products such as Oriental yams. Specialty items such as Yukon potatoes and Vidalia onions, as well as Spanish onions, factor in as seasonal, trendy and ethnic options.
With its flexible space, 3 Guys has been able to cut back on packaged items as consumers, under pressure from inflation, have moved to more bulk products, which gives them the option of picking two, three or four pieces.
Philip Penta, managing partner at 3 Guys from Brooklyn, says for a lot of his customers — many middle-class or lower-income dealing with the costs of living in Brooklyn — piece purchasing offsets the advantages of grab-and-go packages today.
“That price point is too much even for those people who want to pay for convenience,” he says.
He says the store can take multiple approaches to merchandising and promoting potatoes and onions, and can put packaged potatoes and onions on a bargain footing. For example, he says 10-pound onions are good circular items because they are positioned to save some money on a unit price basis.
Ross Johnson, vice president of retail and international, Idaho Potato Commission, Boise, ID, says the question of how to merchandise and promote potatoes and onions together isn’t necessarily the easiest to address. For example, intermingling big potato and onion displays can have the consequence of introducing the onion aroma into the potatoes. Still, the presentation of both together establishes affinities and the ability to create a must-stop display as consumers shop.
The Idaho Potato Commission recommends some distinction but not a sundering of potatoes from onions. “They do make for a great adjacent item to the potato category,” he says.
Similarly, in promotions, it can be difficult to line up different popular bag sizes, varieties and application.
“In the potato category right now, there is so much innovation in some of the baby potatoes, or some of the package items that are microwavable options. So, you see this transition to try to make it easier on the consumer at home,” says Johnson.
Newer specialty varieties and the convenience options offered today can help build up a merchandising program and won’t cannibalize core sales, says Johnson. Yet, he warns that trying to do too much with specialty products can overwhelm the presentation and promotions, making it harder for consumers to select and purchase product.
“What we recommend doing is having a merchandising strategy where you are using the russets, the reds, the yellows to bring people into your store. Then you use a temporary price reduction on some of those convenience packages, whatever it is you’re highlighting, and you will notice you will get people purchasing multiple items within the category,” says Johnson.
At the same time, consumers today have economic and personal financial concerns, so the commission emphasizes the potato is a go-to in uncertain times.
“A lot of our messaging right now is that retailers have a real opportunity to capitalize, because it is that unique vegetable that has an extended shelf life, similar to onions,” says Johnson.
Alpha 1 Marketing, White Plains, NY, which operates with several supermarkets, has worked with the Idaho Potato Commission on its promotional program. Louis Scagnelli, Alpha 1 director of produce and floral, says the help provided by the commission in terms of data applicable to its circular advertising, and the quality and consistency, as well as, merchandising support provided by the company’s potato supplier, Potandon Produce in Idaho, have helped the company triple potato sales over the past three years.
He says recent health considerations created fertile ground for additional potato sales, as consumers reevaluated the role of fruits and vegetables in their diets.
“We went through COVID and the cost of fresh produce spiked,” Scagnelli says. “People at home were eating healthier. Now, we’re seeing more people are continuing that trend, but also looking to value, especially if they have families.”
IN THE FIELDS
Growers, as well as retailers, are looking out into the marketplace and capitalizing on opportunity. “Demand is growing for potato varieties with better flavo,” says Andreas Trettin, marketing director, Mountain King Potatoes, Houston, TX.
More aggressive merchandising and promotion can get consumers thinking about shaking things up when it comes to their cooking. If the recipe requires onions and/or potatoes, some consumers will go to the tried and true, but others can be prompted to try something new if information and suggestions are dropped in front of them.
Whatever the case, most consumers are going to be purchasing potatoes and onions on shopping trips. According to the International Fresh Produce Association in Delaware, potatoes have the highest household penetration of any vegetable in the U.S. at 85%, even beating out top fruit, bananas, by a point. Onions have the second highest penetration among vegetables, at 84%.
“The good thing about onions is that, regardless of price, shoppers use them in many of their meals,” says René Hardwick, director of public relations for the National Onion Association in Colorado. “They are priced reasonably for everyday shoppers, regardless of specialty or variety.”
The foundation is important, says Colby Cantwell, who handles sales at Fagerberg Produce in Colorado. Although specialty products are a more visible part of the market, he says traditional products move volume.
“Specialty varieties, such as tearless or sweet onions have grown in popularity over the last few years, but remain a small percentage of the industry,” he says. “Yellow onions have always dominated the category, followed by reds and whites. Movement has remained steady for all colors.”
Food retailers can take it from there and grow their sales. “Onions are ubiquitous,” says Hardwick. “They, of course, bring potatoes to life in several ways, but they can stand on their own, as well. Their nutritional value alone is enough to merit inclusion in every meal. We see the onion as nature’s ninja, which is nature’s way of providing a vegetable that not only provides powerhouse nutrition to boost immunity, but is an excellent flavor agent.”
SHIFT WITH SEASONS
Retailers can catch shoppers’ attention as the seasons change, says Jessica Peri, retail sales manager, Peri & Sons Farms in Nevada. “Promoting recipes that use potatoes and onions as main ingredients, accompanied by secondary displays and signage, will create incremental sales,” she says.
Idaho Potato Commission’s Johnson says retailers can promote nutritional content in cold and flu season, for example, by emphasizing that potatoes are a source of vitamin C and have more potassium than a banana.
Although they are a regular purchase for most shoppers, potatoes and onions can benefit from extra consideration. Given the in-store space they tend to command, signage covering nutritional qualities and preparation can be mounted and rotated across the calendar to give consumers an added incentive to purchase more than they typically do.
“Consumers and ‘foodies’ are definitely open to trying new ways to prepare produce to incorporate more of it into meals,” says Hardwick.
“Both onions and potatoes are so versatile, they can be cooked and served in a variety of ways to suit whatever meal is being served. It’s just a matter of professional and home chefs experimenting to introduce new ways to eat them,” she says. “With onions, you can eat them raw, sauté them, caramelize them, pickle them, make onion rings, puree them into dips and salsas and incorporate them even into ice creams. Whether they are the center of meals, or hidden in the background, you know you’re adding a superfood that can protect you in many ways.”
Today, those food retailers who want to help shoppers can use displays, circulars and newer methods, such as social media promotion and QR code links.
“Highlighting unique ways to serve and make them (onions) through social media would be, and is, a great way to market to your target audience and engage with them in meaningful ways,” says Hardwick. “When consumers look for new recipes, they’re looking for tasty and nutritional food to add to their tables. Onions and potatoes naturally fall in those two categories.”
Social media, QR codes, videos, recipes, and links all can contribute to a new appreciation of onions and potatoes that can be turned into sales.
Potatoes and onions are the foundations for many holiday meals, Gonzalez adds, “and new recipe ideas, preparation hacks, etc. are a great way to increase interest and sales. Holiday promotions are usually reserved for the core items, but with the right social media and POS campaign, specialty items can be used to boost trials and increase total sales.”