(Sept. 15) Fall is just around the corner, so encourage your customers to decorate their houses with festive squash and ornamentals. Whether they’re displayed on the kitchen table or in an arrangement on the front porch, ornamentals include everything from Indian corn to minipumpkins to assorted gourds. Squash not only makes a unique decoration, it also can serve as a tasty side dish.

DAUNTING DISPLAYS

Ornamentals should be displayed with other specialty squash varieties, or near potatoes and onions, says Tristan Millar, director of marketing and business development for Frieda’s Inc., Los Alamitos, Calif. Highlight ornamentals with an additional display at the front of the department or outside the store, she says.

Each variety of squash has its own bin at Food Lion stores, a chain of 1,195 units based in Salisbury, N.C. All of the bins are grouped in one display in the produce department, says Jeff Lowrance, corporate communications manager.

Okie’s Sentry Market, Ocean Park, Wash., usually receives ornamentals before Halloween and carries them through Thanksgiving, says Dwayne Smallwood, produce manager for one of the two stores. Two years ago, the store built a 5-foot display two weeks before Halloween with bales of straw and pumpkins that was set up until a week after Thanksgiving. The store buys painted pumpkins to round out fall displays, and it promotes minipumpkins that have hair, hats and foam feet glued onto them, Smallwood says.

He figures a 45% profit margin on ornamentals.

Pumpkins are tied in with fall mums outside at Acme Markets, says Jay Schneider, assistant produce sales manager at the chain of 137 stores based in Philadelphia. Stores have a dedicated auxiliary display with pumpkins, ornamentals and squash, he says. The 8- or 4-foot tables serve as an addition to the produce department.
Acme Markets stores advertise ornamentals like regular pumpkins, gourds, Indian and strawberry corn in its weekly circular from mid-October to Halloween, Schneider says. When he promotes ornamentals, sales increase 6% to 8%.

This year, Acme Markets will market mesh bags that contain five gourds or three minipumpkins. Schneider also is looking into pumpkin painting kits that contain three minipumpkins, three tubes of paint and a paintbrush.

Customers can purchase regular and minipumpkins with faces, cats, ghosts, spiders and witches painted on them, Schneider says. The stores also hold fall festivals outside on the weekends in October with such activities as face and pumpkin painting.

Supplier Wiers Farm Inc., Willard, Ohio, sells minipumpkins with faces that show a range of emotions from smiling to frowning to puzzled painted on them, says Jim Wiers, president. The company also offers gourds, Indian corn, minicorn and strawberry corn.

Buurma Farms Inc., Willard, ships ornamentals in graphic standard-size bins. The bins, which contain 700-1,000 pounds of ornamentals, display pictures of common fall images from pumpkins and scarecrows to corn stalks, black cats and half moons, says Loren Buurma, a co-founder of the company.

Buurma Farms’ best sellers are minipumpkins and Indian corn, Buurma says. Customers can purchase a box of four painted minipumpkins for about $20. The company hires people to paint faces on the pumpkins.

Melissa’s supplies painted pumpkins, white and orange minipumpkins, white and orange baby pumpkins, gourds, white pumpkins, large and mini Indian corn and mini haystacks, says Robert Schueller, assistant marketing director, Melissa’s/World Variety Produce Inc., Los Angeles.

Frieda’s distributes small painted pumpkins, Millar says.

SQUASH SAMPLER

Millar suggests promoting ornamentals with pumpkins and specialty squash varieties. Be sure to clearly label each variety of squash and include recipe suggestions.

Consider grouping several types of squash in orchard bins or on large tables and end caps. Create an enticing display using bushel buckets filled with different colored squash. To increase the color impact, add bittersweet and Indian corn.

Acme Markets merchandises acorn squash that’s been cut in half and paired with a seasoning packet and a recipe, Schneider says. The store also offers cubed butternut squash in a clear tray.
Okie’s Sentry Market lets Price Look-Up stickers educate consumers about the best way to prepare the squash varieties and how sweet the flesh is, Smallwood says. He displays all of the squash together to create customer awareness.

Frieda’s squash stickers feature a description, cooking and baking instructions and a write-in recipe program, Millar says.

Buurma Farms develops one recipe each year that is printed on PLU stickers, Buurma says.

Squash at Acme Markets is merchandised in 500-pound high-graphic bins that have fall scenes and pictures of squash on them. A 7- by 11-inch sign listing the varieties hangs above the display, Schneider says. Butternut squash is a popular item, especially around the holidays, as are acorn and spaghetti squash. The stores also carry orange acorn, delicata, sweet dumpling, turban and buttercup squash, he says.

Smallwood makes his own 8- by 11-inch signs with colored paper and art. He uses these signs to give more distinction to a product so consumers know it’s a specialty item and that it’s not going to be around long. “Special displays need more attention,” he says.

Delicata squash is growing in popularity at Okie’s Sentry Market because of its smaller size and sweet flavor, Smallwood says. The store sells assorted squash at 3 pounds for 99 cents on sale and 49 cents to 79 cents a pound regularly, he says.

Acme Markets stores use informational booklets from Try-Foods International Inc., Apopka, Fla., to educate consumers. Customers can flip through the laminated pages to find tips on products like squash.

Food Lion stores have a reference guide available to customers as they enter the produce department, Lowrance says. Customers can look up a particular product in this spiral notebook and find a picture of it with cooking tips.

Frieda’s offered exclusive distribution of star-spangled squash, the newest variety of squash, in its second season this year, Millar says. Available next year from mid-May through Sept. 1, the squash has a unique star shape when sliced and does not have a bitter taste or become soggy when cooked.

Eight-ball squash, which is green and speckled like a zucchini and shaped like an eight ball, is the newest addition to the line of Buurma Farms products, Buurma says.

Frieda’s top-selling squash varieties include chayote, golden nugget, butternut, green acorn, delicata and spaghetti, Millar says.

Gold nugget, delicata, butternut, spaghetti and acorn squashes also are popular at Melissa’s, as well as the kabocha, banana, carnival and sweet dumpling squash varieties.