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Big displays of Peruvian asparagus are key to big sales

The best way to increase sales of Peruvian asparagus at retail is to build large displays and utilize all three colors: green, white and purple. At least that is the view of the Peruvian Asparagus Importers Association and Priscilla Lleras, its coordinator. “Go big,” she said. “Large vibrant displays of fresh Peruvian asparagus will boost sales at retail level. Direct the consumer’s attention to the vibrant colors of fresh asparagus: green, purple and white.”

She added that positioning of the display is also very important. “Strategically position the category to ensure that consumers will see it. Well-positioned, especially visible displays of fresh asparagus in the produce department will gain sales.”

PAIA has also seen that cross merchandising of asparagus with other items — such as grilling meats — is another way to boost sales of asparagus and can add to the total ring of the average shopper. Statistics show that the average buyer of asparagus tends to skew toward a higher income level. In fact, the more money one makes, the greater chance it is that he or she will be buying asparagus. Income is actually one of best predictors of an asparagus purchase at retail.

According to statistics released by PAIA in its “Category Management Plan Outline,” about 38 percent of all consumers purchase asparagus on an annual basis. That number is at its lowest at annual household incomes of less than $25,000 as only 25 percent of that category will make an annual purchase. The number gets greater as income increases and basically doubles for those households with an income of more than $100,000.

While other demographic information does show variance in purchasing behavior, nothing comes close to the disparity when it comes to income. For example 41 percent of those who are married purchase asparagus with 35 percent of single people being buyers. The divorced, separated and widowed category falls in the middle. Age is a bit of a factor, but again the numbers are not widely different like income. About 34 percent of those in the 40-49 age category purchase with the number climbing to 43 percent for those at age 59 or older. Other age categories fall in between. Those living in the West and Northeast purchase at a greater level than those in other sections of the country, but again the disparity is not huge, ranging from a high of 44 percent in the Northeast to a low of 33 percent in the South.

Peruvian asparagus represented just about half of the total U.S. asparagus import value in 2012 and about 41 percent of the total world volume.

The value of the Peruvian crop jumped 14 percent in 2012 over the previous year, outpacing gains by any other country of origin. Per capita consumption in the United States continues to rise as it has grown from 1.3 pounds per person in 2003 to 1.7 pounds for 2012. That represents about a 30 percent increase in consumption over the past decade.

Lleras said several factors are driving this increase but chief among them is the great nutritional profile of asparagus. She believes highlighting the nutritional value and health attributes of fresh Peruvian asparagus is a great promotional strategy. The PAIA merchandising plan gives several examples of allowable health claims or attributes that can be highlighted in conjunction with an asparagus display. For example, it is allowable to say that low fat diets rich in fruits and vegetables that contain vitamins A and C may reduce the risk of some types of cancer, and then to add that asparagus is fat free and a good source of vitamins A and C. Asparagus is also sodium free, which allows for a health claim stating: “Diets low in sodium may reduce the risk of high blood pressure, a disease affected by many factors.”

Lleras said other merchandising tips include presenting usage options by providing recipe information for grilling, baking and soups; and promoting value-added options of fresh asparagus from Peru. “There are many today to choose from: microwavable, ready-to-eat and variety packs that provide consumers with time-saving convenience and value,” she said.

The PAIA handout also encourages promoting Peruvian asparagus in non-peak holiday periods as well as the holidays. Asparagus tends to get great promotional support in the November and December time frame, but importers say it is of great value and is ripe for promotion also during the back-to-school period in September when home cooks are once again preparing sit-down meals for the families with cooking vegetables.