Accounting for an estimated $3.2 billion in retail sales, berries remain the No. 1 category in the produce department, according to Fresh Look Marketing.

If you’re a retailer enjoying the benefits of berries as a sales booster and traffic driver, promoting the category is a no-brainer.

Berries frequently are a lead item in weekly circulars during the summer, and they’re typically found in a prime location in the department.

Grower-shippers who deal with the category year-round with a host of different retailers have come up with a few best practices that might help produce directors sell even more of the berries.

Doug Ranno, chief operating officer and managing partner of Colorful Harvest LLC, Salinas, Calif., who spent 15 years of his 36-year produce career on the retail scene, offers three suggestions to help retailers take full advantage of the category.

First, don’t just sell strawberries in the produce department.

“Strawberries are a piece of fruit that should be marketed in multiple displays,” he said.

Set up a primary display in produce and secondary displays in the bakery section or cereal aisle. Secondary displays over the years have yielded up to 19% incremental sales increases, he said.

About 70% of all product purchases are impulse purchases, he said, so “the visual impulse is a key factor.”

Second, be sure you set up big berry displays in July and August, when people are making dishes like fruit salads and strawberry shortcake.

“People buy fresh produce when a display is bountiful,” he said.

“In those two months, the strawberry displays should be absolutely monstrous.”

Finally, use innovative ways to cross-merchandise berries with other products “to entice consumers to make things,” he suggested.

All displays should have pound cakes or angel food cakes, block or dipping chocolate and other berry go-togethers.

Even consider merchandising cereal in the produce department, he said, because “you’re giving a reason for consumers to buy more strawberries.”

Industry veteran Robert Verloop, executive vice president of marketing for Naturipe Farms LLC, Naples, Fla., also is a firm believer in large displays using multiple kinds of berries as color breaks and stocking large containers during the peak summer period.

“The clamshells are getting bigger,” he said.

Naturipe has experienced significant sales growth in 11- and 18-ounce packages of blueberries and 2- and 3-pound containers of strawberries.

The company’s 3-pounder in particular has been a big hit for Naturipe, he said.

“It optimizes the amount of weight you can put on a pallet,” Verloop said, and enables retailers to merchandise a lot of product in a large container that is cost competitive.

He also encouraged retailers to merchandise berry snack items, like Naturipe’s new Berry Quick Snacks aimed at the younger demographic.

“More retailers are looking for ways to provide products for shoppers looking for convenience,” he said.

Both berry marketers said the retail category has remained strong throughout the economic downturn.

Sales increased rather than decreased for Colorful Harvest because the company offers consumers the opportunity to enjoy strawberries year-round, Ranno said.

Although category growth slowed a bit during the recession, sales continued to increase, Verloop said.

“We’ve seen growth within each of the berry groups continuing in volume and in dollars,” he said. “We didn’t see a drop-off.”

As the economy improves, the company once again is seeing accelerated growth for conventional and organic berries, he said.