All your grape needs in one place

Specialty Shop: A Q&A with Alex Jackson Berkley

As consumers seek more and more variety and look to in-store shopping experiences for inspiration as much as amenities, successful merchandising practices have become a must for retailers looking to get a leg up on the competition.

So, how can retailers court consumers and drive specialty produce sales with merchandising practices that best feature fresh offerings—be they seasonal, imported, or otherwise unique? And how can retailers best reap the rewards of a rich variety of products through merchandising? These are questions Alex Jackson Berkley, Assistant Sales Manager at Frieda’s Specialty Produce, has thought about more than most.

For more than half a century, Frieda’s has been pioneering new categories and finding ways to grow demand for items like watermelon radishes, taro root, turmeric, kumquats, and pluots. From dragon fruit and daikon to fennel and fiddlehead fern, Frieda’s has been expanding stateside eaters’ ideas of what they want to see in the produce aisle.

Alex was gracious enough to share some insights into the importance of merchandising in a shifting consumer landscape.

Robert Schaulis, Senior Writer, The Snack MagazineRobert Schaulis: First and foremost, how do you see merchandising and the role of merchandisers today influencing the produce industry? How do you think in-store merchandising can affect the way consumers eat and approach fresh food?


Alex Jackson Berkley, Assistant Sales Manager, Frieda's Specialty ProduceAlex Jackson Berkley: As long as there are brick and mortar stores, which I believe will be around as long as I am alive, the influence of merchandisers and merchandising will be vital to the produce department. As we know, consumers are looking for inspiration when they go to the grocery store. Merchandising is the anchor of that inspiration. Whether it is highlighting what is new or in peak of season or suggesting a product mix relevant to the current holiday, merchandising shows consumers exactly what they should be buying and eating. Now, consumers want to eat what tastes good—not just what is cheap. If retailers are focusing their merchandising on high-flavor, in-season, interesting items, they will see it pay off in sales.

Consumers are looking for inspiration when they go to the grocery store. Merchandising is the anchor of inspiration.

-Alex Jackson Berkley, Assistant Sales Manager, Frieda's
Specialty Produce

RS: As a marketer and distributor of specialty produce, what are some of the challenges associated with merchandising Frieda’s products? What are some of the rewards that stores can reap from effectively merchandising Frieda’s products?

AJB: The biggest challenge with merchandising specialty produce is when there is a lack of training. When a retailer or a produce manager doesn’t know what to do with our products, they may feel inclined to skip it all together. However, what Frieda’s has been doing for 55 years is educating retailers on how to merchandise specialty produce—not only so shoppers can find it, but so shoppers will be inclined to put it in their shopping carts and come back for more. We used to hear objections like “I don’t have space” or “This stuff just shrinks!” Well, shoppers are now expecting variety in their stores, so retailers are required to carry variety. Now, it’s about merchandising it in the best location that makes sense for the shopper and the shelf-life, while keeping it fresh and educating the consumer at point-of-sale, all at the same time.

When a store effectively merchandises Frieda’s products, they will see an increase in sales at the register. And we have proof! When our retail partners work closely with us, they see the dollars. For example, one of our East Coast retailers that has been closely following our recommendations, while implementing their industry knowledge, saw a 26 percent growth in sales dollars through the register in 2017 as compared to the previous year. You can’t beat that!

Our retail partners are just that—partners. They become a part of our family, and we work hard to keep them successful.

RS: How would you summarily describe the relationship between a company like Frieda’s and the merchandising practices of its partners and customers?

AJB: Our retail partners are just that—partners. They become a part of our family, and we work hard to keep them successful. This involves trying things, taking advantage of what works, and quickly eliminating what doesn’t work. Every partner is different, and there is not a one-size-fits-all solution. That’s why we see more retailers coming to us to become a partner; we work closely with them to execute a program that works for their stores and shoppers, and not something that only works for Frieda’s. We all must win!

It’s with this win-win ethos in mind, Alex tells me, that Frieda’s and its partners can work to craft custom solutions to problems of category management and merchandising, allowing retailers to reap the rewards of a fulsome variety of fruits and vegetables.