Wonderful Company sees strong future for Halo import program, seedless lemons
During the virtual United Fresh LIVE! last month, FreshFruitPortal.com caught up with Diana Salsa of the Wonderful Company. Having recently made the move from Halo's Director of Marketing to the same position at Wonderful Pistachios, Salsa spoke about expansion plans for the leading mandarin brand's import program, the first season of Seedless Lemons, and soaring growth with pistachios.
FFP: How did the U.S. 2019-20 Halos season go?
DS: Halos had a strong season. We started in November and wrapped up around the end of May, and the quality was consistently very strong this season. For 2019 we were named the number one healthiest snack brand, which is really exciting.
FFP: What plans do you have for the Halos import program?
DS: We are continuing to expand our summer import program, Halos will mostly be coming from Chile and South Africa and we expect good supply. Since we started the program we've continued to grow it every year, and this year we expect no difference. That should start up around the end of July, beginning of August.
We maintain very strict quality controls for both visiting our growers down there, and then when the fruit comes here into the U.S., making sure that everything that goes into a Halos bag has the same level of quality, even if the fruit comes from outside of our orchards. During the California season, we're completely vertically integrated from seed to shelf.
FFP: Is there still much of a gap between U.S. and imported supplies?
DS: We're working on that piece on trying to smooth it out. In January, depending on when we switch from the clementines to Murcotts, sometimes there is a gap and that varies from year to year, just depending on when the right time is to harvest.
We need to make sure that the fruit has the right sugar and acid level when we harvest it. So that one just depends from year to year, but hopefully over time we'll be able to have year-round mandarins. I know everybody would love that. It's such a loved category.
FFP: Do a lot of retailers say they want a year-round supply of Halos?
DS: Absolutely. We can see it from the consumer demand, people just really love mandarins. What's not to love? They're sweet, seedless, easy to peel and a great snack multiple times a day. So I think that it's a great product.
It's still new to some people compared to oranges, so I think they still have room to grow. We've got about 50% household penetration, and to me there's still plenty of room to grow. Oranges are in the sixties or seventies. So there are still folks that I think because they're not available year-round, don't get a chance to buy them. And hopefully with more of that year-round supply, we'll get more people to try them and buy them consistently over time.
FFP: This past season saw the commercial launch of Wonderful Seedless Lemons. How did the first year go?
DS: It was a great first test year with small, limited volumes. We were able to test it in different channels and different sizes and get some great learnings and feedback. So we'll continue to grow that program. The trees that are young just started to produce, and more and more trees will come online.
We have a similar story to Halos - we have some plantings in Mexico that will let us be your-round with seedless lemons eventually closer to the end of next year. We'll start to smooth out that supply curve. Right now, it looks a little similar to the mandarin season where our availability was roughly October to May.
FFP: What's been the reaction so far?
It kind of stops you in your tracks, and that's important when you have something new. We're known for our competitive advantage, and both the very large graphics on the bag and the POS tell people what it is.
People think seeds are annoying, over 81% according to our research, and it's a very easy solution to that annoyance. It's another great product that once people try it, we've seen a really strong repeat rate. And so we think that demand will continue to grow along with our supply and position us for a really strong second season, adding more retailers and more supply throughout the year.
FFP: Do you find that there's a need to educate consumers in-store about the lemons' seedlessness or that they're non-GMO?
DS: Sure. In our research, we wanted to address these questions people would have about a new product. And that's why the packaging says naturally seedless and non-GMO, and so this is why our packaging is so important. The bag allows you that communication and that billboard space that answers those questions for you.
And then our bins that you can put the seedless lemons on also shout that out from far away. We have over 200 people that merchandise the product in-store and set up those displays.
I still think there's a huge opportunity to get more people to try because we see the repeat purchase, we just need to get them to actually try and believe it and see it for themselves.
FFP: Do it seem that consumers are willing to pay a little extra for seedless lemons over conventional lemons?
DS: We still believe consumers are willing to pay a premium for the added benefit once they try the product. And so we'll continue to be focused on merchandising, both next to lemons, and then outside of lemons where lemons might be used, like in the seafood department for example, or next to asparagus.
We still feel confident in the price point being at a premium to conventional lemons because it is an added benefit that we've seen people are willing to pay for.
FFP: How has everything been for Wonderful Pistachios recently?
DS: Everything's been going really great for Wonderful Pistachios overall. We have both in-shell and No Shells pistachios. No Shells have been on fire - that business is up over 30% versus last year. And a lot of that growth is being driven by our new flavors. Of the people who try those, 38% of them are new to Wonderful Pistachios.
So it's a great way to bring people into the category who maybe hadn't considered pistachios, or just really love new flavors of items or salty stacks. I think, especially during Covid-19, people are looking for certain functional health benefits, and it's a good solution for plant-based protein.
Pistachios come from trees and some people don't know that, so we've got this beautiful tree graphic to strengthen that connection and remind people that they are from trees. We also just launched a commercial on television and also on digital streaming services to tie that all together.