(Sept. 12) Jaws may drop and eyes may grow large when shoppers first encounter red sweet corn, purple potatoes or maroon carrots. The novel and exotic nature of such items can make many customers’ introductions to them startling. Using samples, demos or even a simple placard with preparation ideas can help familiarize consumers with the more obscure and colorful vegetables not so common to their eyes.

RULES OF ACQUAINTANCE

When introducing such a product to your customer base, there are five important things to remember, says Doug Ranno, managing partner for Colorful Harvest LLC, Monterey, Calif.

Give the product adequate display space. “If you don’t have at least two rows, you’re not going to have a fair chance for marketing the product,” Ranno says.

Educate with signs. “Because this, like other new products, has never been tried by a consumer, you need to have information signage placed readily accessible to the consumer’s eye,” he says.

Promote, promote, promote. “Within the first two to three months of introduction, there should be at least two to three promotions,” Ranno says. “Promotions don’t have to be lead features; they can be promotions that are in the ROP circular or in-store distribution.”

MERCHANDISE WITH PRIDE

“Many people take a new product and hide it in a small little corner without much presence,” Ranno says, adding that this is not the case among successful retailers he’s worked with.

Please their palates. Running a demonstration or setting out samples of a colorful specialty vegetable will help shoppers become accustomed to the item. “Sales will increase five to 10 times the day of the demo,” Ranno says. “The period after the demo, it averages somewhere close to 35 percent to 50 percent improvement over the prior week’s sales.”

It’s also important to let customers know that unusually colored vegetables still are natural, says James Macek, spokesman for Coosemans Worldwide Inc., Miami. Purple potatoes garner the most interest and questions among Coosemans’ customers, Macek says, adding, “People always ask, ‘What did you use to color them?’ Let (customers) know this is a natural product.”

MERCHANDISE WITH COLOR

At a Bronxville, N.Y., DeCicco Food Market, one of five stores with headquarters in Pelham, N.Y., produce manager Louis Flores carries maroon carrots and baby carrots, purple baby cauliflower, green cauliflower, white asparagus and purple basil merchandised on a regular basis in their respective categories.

He noticed a demand for these specialty items about a year and a half ago. “We’ve got a lot of relationships with customers, and they had heard about it on television shows, so we started to offer it to them,” Flores says.

Catering to the wants of this small sector of consumers increases sales for the department, as those who look for it also buy other things, he says.

To get consumers acquainted with exotic and colorful produce items, Flores samples the commodities about once a week and notes that white asparagus is the most popular because customers like to grill it.

He also noticed that out of every 100 shoppers, about 25 will pick up the more colorful choice of cauliflower, carrots or asparagus. The more colorful item gets about 10 percent of the display space of the conventional commodity, he says.

The appeal of maroon carrots is strong at first because of the item’s novelty, says Maureen Daniel, produce assistant for the single Atlantic Food Mart, Reading, Mass. For a recent in-store special, the store ran maroon carrots at $1.49 per bunch and merchandised them next to orange carrots, though Daniel admits there was not much demand for such a specialty item.

A store she previously worked for once featured white asparagus at the same price as green asparagus. Still, the sales ratio was about 6-to-1 green to white, she says, adding that white asparagus sales could have been higher if customers had been better informed and more familiar with the item.

While orange cauliflower, maroon carrots, purple potatoes or white asparagus may be items that were sold at more upscale retail outfits five years ago, Ranno says the category is entering more retail channels.

“The way things are going today, with the influx of people paying attention to phytonutrients in vegetables, it becomes something that every store has to have in their strategy mix,” Ranno says. “(Retailers say,) ‘I’ve got a traditional program or an organic program. Now I need a color program.’ All stores need to be offering colorful and unique products.”