Marketing and Merchandising Practices for Fresh Sweet Corn in Supermarkets
Challenges and Opportunities for the New York State Fresh Sweet Corn Industry
This study focused on investigating key issues related to marketing fresh sweet corn through supermarket firms and implications for the New York sweet corn industry. In summer 2002, a survey was conducted with supermarket firms that operate stores in the market area of three Northeast States - New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Executives from 25 supermarket firms responded to the survey. Participating firms operated 921 stores, and their 2000 sales ranged from $21 million to $10.5 billion with total retail sales of $24.5 billion in the year.
The majority of supermarket firms in the study sourced fresh sweet corn directly from grower/shippers during the summer season (July – September). During the rest of the year, wholesalers become more important as the main source of this product due to their competitive advantage of being able to source product from different regions. The three most important methods used by supermarket firms to identify their fresh sweet corn suppliers are 1) personal relationships/referrals, 2) sales calls from grower/shippers, and 3) “other” ways, such as memory from previous years, through their wholesalers, and from terminal markets. Large firms also emphasized their use of shippers’ directories and field offices. The three most important characteristics sought in suppliers of fresh sweet corn by participating supermarket firms are supplier’s ability to provide consistent quality, ability to make daily deliveries, and the prospect of developing a good relationship.
During the summer season, fresh sweet corn grown in New York State plays an important role among supermarket firms in the trading area studied. Its major competitor is sweet corn from New Jersey. Small and medium firms, as well as firms in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, preferred white corn, while large firms and firms in New York State preferred bi-color corn. These preferences are determined by customers’ preferences and demands. During the summer season, most of the fresh sweet corn marketed by participating supermarket firms is marketed bulk and un-shucked. The market share of tray-packed fresh sweet corn, either partially shucked or completely shucked, is still very small. Other forms of fresh sweet corn that supermarket firms would be interested in selling in their stores are mainly related to value-added and/or ready-to-cook products, such as microwave-ready trays.
Results confirmed that supermarkets mainly promote fresh sweet corn during the traditional holidays of Memorial Day, the 4th of July and Labor Day. Quality, availability and price are the other factors that determine when supermarket firms run a promotion on fresh sweet corn. According to participating supermarket firms, the most effective strategies to promote fresh sweet corn, and where the biggest expansion efforts should be focused, are: locally-grown, in-store display features, store flyers and discount sales.
Participating supermarket firms that purchased fresh sweet corn grown in New York State rated taste and quality of the New York product as good. Availability, shelf-life and shipping containers were rated somewhat lower -- between average and good. Medium-size supermarket firms were less satisfied with New York products’ attributes. In general, dependability of New York grower/shippers was rated as good. On-time delivery was also rated good except by medium-size supermarket firms and by New York State firms. Promotional support from New York sweet corn suppliers was the attribute with the lowest rating across all firm categories and particularly among New York State firms.
These results clearly indicate that there are opportunities for the New York sweet corn industry to improve fresh sweet corn sales through supermarkets in the trading area of the study. Supermarkets of different sizes and in different regions (States of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania in this study) have different needs and expectations. Sweet corn grower/shippers need to strive to meet the needs and ensure the satisfaction of their various clients.