California table grapes are a summertime favorite in produce departments, but some retailers are squeezing more sales out of the category by giving grapes a merchandising nudge.


Green seedless and red flame grapes, for example, are the most popular varieties at Palm Springs, Calif.-based Jensen’s Finest Foods, said Jim Madala, manager of the La Quinta, Calif., store and former produce director/buyer for the nine-store chain.


But which variety sells better can vary.


“It’s all in your merchandising,” he said. “If you make a large display of your green seedless grapes and put a demo out there, they’re going to sell.”


Similarly, Quentin Smith, produce manager at San Francisco’s Cal-Mart Inc., makes presentation a priority.


“How your counter looks from 10 feet away is important,” he said. “You need to have different colors to complete the painting.”


Smith buys black seedless grapes not so much for their popularity, he said, but because they provide a good color break.


The 104 Indianapolis-based Marsh Supermarkets Inc. stores typically display four varieties of table grapes during the summer, said Kevin Weaver, vice president of produce merchandising.


The usual summertime price is $1.69 per pound, but when they’re on sale, the stores can slash that price to a low 88 cents a pound. When that happens, sales more than double.


Here, try some grapes


Sampling is another way to boost sales.


Madala usually decides which variety he’ll feature based on brix level, and once he sets up his display, he supplements it with a demo stand, which can double sales.


Shoppers might like how grapes look, he said, “but when they actually taste them, they buy a bag.”


Weaver said he can get a 15% sales bump by sampling grapes at Marsh stores — especially the black seedless and red globe varieties.


“Once we get them in (consumers’) mouths, they buy them,” he said.


Cross-merchandising grapes


At Jensen’s, produce managers sometimes scoop out the center of cantaloupes or honeydew melons, filling them with grapes and overwrapping them.


Sometimes Marsh stores get added sales by cross-merchandising grapes with brie cheese, Weaver said.


The stores usually display table grapes in bags, but they use clamshell containers for specialty grapes, like the champagne variety, and they sometimes offer large clamshells for promotions, like a three-day weekend special.


Weaver features grapes on ad three out of four weeks during the summer, and he displays them in spreads that are 8-12 feet.


Cal-Mart is a throwback to the past, “when they did things the correct way,” Smith said. “We don’t just open boxes and throw it at the counter.”


Cal-Mart is one of the few stores that rarely sells grapes in bags or clamshells. Smith merchandises bunches loose on the produce counter with stems standing straight up so that customers can “pick them up by the end of their stem, not grab them like a football.”


Cal-Mart features at least four or five varieties, including organic grapes, concord, champagne, muscat and even the black specialty kyoho grape.


During the summer the display is as large as 16 feet with seven or eight varieties.


Smith, who has 30 years of produce experience, said he buys from the terminal market and looks for “the best, not a bargain.”