One of the most difficult challenges as a retailer is creating new selling opportunities around fruits and vegetables, especially ones that can create a fresh buzz around the category. Yet, Swedish supermarket giant ICA believes it has found the solution.
Speaking at the recent London Produce Show and Conference, Maria Wieloch, senior category manager for fruit, vegetables and flowers at ICA Gruppen, revealed how the brand has ignited sales by selling fresh produce at both Halloween and Easter.
The average daily consumption of fruit and vegetables among adults in Sweden is a disappointing 360 grams, which is well below the 500G government recommendation, according to figures Wieloch cited from the country’s national institute of public health. And this is even lower among children, with the average daily consumption just 250 grams. In fact, one in five children in Sweden is obese, with just 1 in 10 eating 500g of fruit and veg per day.
“These are our future consumers, so it is very worrying,” Wieloch told the audience. “We realized we have to do something about it. It’s a ticking bomb for society if kids continue to eat all this crap, so there’s not only an ethical responsibility but also a business opportunity for us to do something different.”
Subsequently, ICA has created new selling opportunities to children, starting with Halloween 2018. The spooky celebration has become a lot more popular in Sweden over recent years, so Wieloch saw an opportunity to create ghostly characters out of everyday fruit and veg in order to make fresh produce more appealing for children.
Participating ICA stores saw their fresh produce aisles transformed into “monster gardens,” with original packaging and names for products including Witches Warts (for blueberries), Clown noses (for plums), vampire teeth (garlic) and troll noses (sweet potato). This activity also included recipes cards, in-store activations such as make-up counters for children and a game, where they had to try different “scary” fruit and veg, plus a paid video on social platforms.
Wieloch says fruit and veg sales under the new Halloween design rose 8.5% compared with ordinary packaging that sold 4.6% during October 2018. “The over-arching angle was ‘do you dare to try our fruit and veg?’ ” she added. “It was a huge success and got children to see the fun in eating healthily. We are going to bring it back for 2019 and will look to launch a new spooky character every year! It’s a good example of getting kids to look at fruit and veg in a different way.”
Another buying occasion in which Wieloch saw an opportunity to up fruit and vegetable sales was Easter. She claimed 17% of Swedish kids’ daily calorie intake consists of candy, chips, snacks, sodas and cookies, and that this was the highest in the world, comparing to a 10% rate in the U.S.
“When you look at the high sugar consumption in Sweden then Easter is definitely a problem as it’s such a chocolate-based holiday. We set out with the aim of making it less of a sugar holiday,” she revealed.
This involved the supermarket rebranding fruit and vegetable packaging so it looked more like candy, and so children would see the value in having fruit for Easter. Getting your kid to have an apple instead of a chocolate bar for Easter might sound like an uphill battle, but Wieloch says it’s one they won as a retailer, with the Easter-branded fruit and veg achieving sales growth of 58% (compared with 9% growth for regular branded fruit and veg) over the Easter period of 2019.
ICA’s efforts to create more fresh produce buying opportunities extend to adults, too. When the FIFA World Cup is on, Wieloch says the country likes to snack on crisps and have barbecues while watching football. Therefore, the brand saw an opportunity to promote more healthy eating opportunities among adults during the Swedish national team’s matches in the 2018 tournament.
ICA is a sponsor of the Swedish Football Association and prioritized new lines such as celery sticks over crisps in their marketing campaigns during the tournament. A portion of all fruit and vegetable sales went to charity “Everybody is Different,” and the supermarket changed the packaging of fresh produce so it had more of an obvious link to the football.
As a result of this activity, celery stick sales grew 500%. The main fruit and veg category saw a sales lift of 10.4%, but World Cup-branded fruit and veg products grew by a much more impressive 47.3%. It’s activity that the supermarket is bringing back for the Women’s World Cup this Summer.
One of the things that binds all these activations together is changing the in-store fresh produce aisle to make it more of a destination and Wieloch says this is absolutely crucial if you are to make a fruit and veg one-off promotion work. She advised audience members: “Campaigns with a limited time work well to increase sales as you get a total focus. Campaigns with a wider cause are popular too, you need to show you want to make a difference to the consumer’s everyday life and we’ve also seen huge success from our Pink Ribbon activation around fruit and veg to raise cancer awareness.
“Nudging is important. People don’t want these social causes forced onto them, but they need to be slowly nudged into them. If the store doesn’t reflect your marketing then there’s a big issue. The store is the best opportunity to get people on side, especially in terms of getting kids to eat more fruit and veg.”
Moving forward, Wieloch would like to see the daily intake of fruit and veg raised from 500g to 600g in Sweden. She says the country has a big opportunity to promote education among consumers. Wieloch concluded: “It would be easy to get depressed but if consumers need 140G more fruit and veg a day then that’s a huge business opportunity.