Taking Stock

With fresh food springing up everywhere, purveyors big and small feast on a crop of new marketing tactics

Photo: David Malan/Getty Images


You can’t squeeze a ripened tomato with an iPhone.

Even with online and mobile shopping at our fingertips and players like FreshDirect thriving, consumers seeking the freshest and healthiest produce are heating up business at brick-and-mortar stores. Major discount retailers like Walmart and Target are getting in the game, joining supermarket chains in beefing up fresh food offerings and getting more creative about in-store marketing.

“Today’s shoppers crave more sensory, exciting in-store retail experiences to offset all the advanced shopping technology we enjoy,” says Anne Howe, former vp, market intelligence at shopper marketing agency Mars Advertising and now a consultant.

Thanks to the organic movement and vocal champions of better eating like Michelle Obama, the fresh food business is experiencing a bounty. More than 7,100 farmers’ markets operated in the U.S. last year, per the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a 20 percent rise versus 2010. Retail sales of fresh produce sprang up 4.3 percent last year, with the average price per item up 5.5 percent year over year, per Nielsen. What’s more, online searches for “fresh fruit” are up some 20 percent this year versus last, according to Google Search Insights.

The quality of a store’s fresh foods is the single biggest factor for consumers choosing a supermarket, according to the 2012 Shopper Engagement Study by Point of Purchase Advertising International (Popai).

In the first quarter, Whole Foods, the granddaddy of fresh food retailers, posted the best results in its 32-year history, enjoying 31 percent growth in earnings.

And the lure of fresh food is not lost on chains like Walmart and Target. Each has added fresh produce to its stores in recent years, while offering full-scale grocery departments inside their superstores. Walmart says it will double sales of fresh produce from local farms in its U.S. stores by the end of 2015 and has allotted more than $1 billion to improve its global fresh food supply chain to get produce into stores faster.

Target says consumer demand led it to redesign about 850 stores to include expanded fresh food departments. There, shoppers are greeted with a colorful, open-market design that highlights a carefully selected grocery assortment, including open-case refrigerators and low-slung tables of fruit, vegetables and baked goods.

Meanwhile, the supermarket chains are also getting fresher. California-based Safeway, which operates 1,700 stores across the U.S. and Canada, recently launched Safeway Farms, a line of packaged fresh produce and salad mixes. It also is revamping its so-called “lifestyle” stores with expanded fresh produce and organic and specialty foods. Safeway tapped Oakland, Calif.-based Lowney Architecture, which designs Apple’s retail outlets as well as selected Whole Foods stores, to make over its Bay Area locations.

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