Showcase Garlic as the Great Flavor Enhancer

Originally published in Produce Business, July 2023.

Chopped, shaved, pickled or pureed; crushed, minced, diced, or whole, garlic is one vegetable flavor-seekers can’t live without. This year-round consumer quest is excellent news for retailers.

Why should retailers create a garlic experience for shoppers? Flavor. Flavor drives garlic sales, but savvy retailers know to connect with customers and encourage broadened purchases by offering significant garlic displays — and plenty of information on the many ways to use it.

Fresh is king, but convenience seems to be on the rise, as those new to cooking value expediency. Simply put, peeling garlic as a meal prep step is not widely appreciated by culinary newcomers or time-crunched families tackling weeknight meals.

“Consumers are increasingly looking for different forms of garlic they can integrate into their meal prep. Peeled garlic is a great solution for consumers who are looking for the added convenience of not having to peel cloves, but who still enjoy the process of mincing and chopping garlic to incorporate into their favorite recipes,” says Mike Smith, senior vice president of sales, Spice World Inc., in Orlando, FL. In business for 74 years, Spice World grows garlic in California and sources fresh garlic from around the world.

Bruce Klein, sales and marketing, with Maurice A. Auerbach Inc., Secaucus, agrees peeled garlic use is up. Available for more than 80 years, the company’s AuerPak Brand label also includes garlic braids, which make thoughtful gifts for food lovers. Klein says, “Braids are great for visuals and are often purchased for new store decor.” He adds that, starting around October, the garlic braids particularly enhance the fall ambience of produce departments.

Tell the Garlic Story

Part of the onion family, garlic has been used by man for medicinal and culinary purposes for some 5,000 years. Especially during and since the pandemic, consumers claim to seek food that provides health benefits, such as boosted immunity. Now is the time to tell the health story garlic so prolifically offers.

For example, as a powerful antioxidant, garlic is said to have anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal properties. And not everyone knows garlic is reported to help lower high blood pressure. The list of health benefits provided by consuming garlic is extensive. The information makes ideal website content for stores reaching out to health-minded consumers and customers looking to the produce department for health answers.

Tell the story in produce with sassy signage and include garlic trivia such as the origin of garlic’s other name — the Stinking Rose. It’s OK to have a little fun with the pungent bulb’s illustrious history. “Auerbach promotes garlic as a super food that does wonders for the body. The message is ideal for retailers to share with their customers,” says Klein.

Promotion and Availability

When the summer heat starts to fade, ready-to-cook consumers dive into autumn’s harvest. Supermarkets see this change year after year, and count on additional garlic sales during this seasonal transition.

“Thanksgiving and Christmas are the best holidays for garlic sales because it is a season of heavy cooking and entertaining, but sales also spike before other holidays, including Easter, Memorial Day and July Fourth,” says Spice World’s Smith.

Jim Provost, co-owner of I Love Produce LLC in Kelton, PA, says the company offers ad support and special pricing during promotable times of the year to stimulate garlic sales. “Garlic is tighter in supply this coming crop year, so retail pricing will be up,” he adds. “Jarred garlic will be a good alternate promotional product, as the pricing is more stable.”

At Stew Leonard’s, a seven-store chain of supermarkets based in Norwalk, CT, winter sales for garlic are dependable. “When customers are cooking hearty soups and stews, our garlic sales are really strong,” says Markos Labaditis.

During the summer, garlic typically is purchased as a flavor enhancer, the produce manager says, and during the cold months, garlic is used for cooking and as an ingredient in healthy drinks.

Looking at availability for the next six months or so, Keith Malarky, senior vice president of retail with Garland Food LLC based in Miami, FL, indicates there will be a few challenges. “From a supply perspective, since the pandemic, there has been significant improvement in garlic supply,” Malarky says, but cautions, “The rain in Spain will likely affect availability for the back half of this year and the first part of next year.”

Malarky also expects supply issues will be experienced because of the rain in the western U.S.

Create Bold Displays

For a themed garlic display, consider combining fresh and packaged garlic to showcase your store’s offering. “The produce department is ‘The Destination’ at the supermarket because of the array of fresh products and colors. Garlic can be merchandised in ways to break up the color in a tomato section, for example, and that also makes for a nice cross-merchandising opportunity,” suggests Provost.

Demoulas Super Markets Inc., an 89-store chain based in Tewksbury, MA, merchandises garlic in the onion set. “Garlic is also bold with our display of avocados, tomatoes and basil,” says buyer/merchandiser Craig Minichiello. “We carry everything from fresh loose garlic on the tomato tables to the jars and squeeze bottles.” Shoppers find the jarred garlic on the three-tier racks by the onions, and Minichiello says peeled garlic and elephant garlic are included in the offerings.

“I believe the interest in garlic is from the foodies and their phones and the TikTok,” says Minichiello. “These foodie shoppers come in with their phones and know exactly what they’re looking for.”

Use signage directing shoppers to the assortment of refrigerated garlic items. If your store commits to hosting a Stinking Rose week, make sure to involve all departments. Meat, Seafood, Deli and Bakery can easily take part in the garlic celebration and show customers how garlic fits in each department. Shrimp Scampi anyone?

Buyer/merchandisers know to check with garlic suppliers on convenient, shipper display boxes and various racks for accommodating tight spaces in produce departments. “We offer a wide array of merchandising solutions, such as shippers, racks and other stand-alone shelving systems,” says Smith. The company also creates customized solutions for retailers.

Request Collaboration

Some retailers request specific bag sizes,and Auerbach has a machine available to put bulk garlic in any size bags the customer wants, explains Klein.

Garland Food, which sources garlic from several countries, such as Argentina, Spain, Mexico, Chile and Peru, services customers from Florida to Maine. “West to Louisiana and up the East Coast is primarily our service region,” says Malarky. The three-facility company, with locations in Miami, Plant City, FL, and Pennsauken, NJ, offers private labeling and customized specialty packaging. Its ready-to-use business currently provides southeastern grocers with garlic and other products for some of its stores. “We’re looking for other private label opportunities,” says Malarky. The company is an exhibitor at December’s New York Produce Show and also participates in several other industry events and exhibitions.

“Interest in private label garlic is increasing, and we collaborate with our customers that request these programs,” says Provost of I Love Produce.

Spice World uses eco-friendly packaging for its Founder’s Garlic, a single garlic bulb wrapped in plant-based film. The nearly invisible, sustainable wrap is 100% biodegradable, compostable, and is certified with USDA BioPreferred and Industrial Compostability status.

Global Delight

Globally speaking, garlic is said to be one of the oldest horticultural crops. For retailers, knowing the store’s demographics and strategically catering to that range of cultures is a measured action of customer connection. Merchandising garlic as an international taste means retailers can reach numerous customers by inspiring the flavors of a wide variety of countries.

Stores planning Italian Week can certainly feature numerous garlic offerings in the produce department. And China is said to be the top country for garlic consumption, which can inspire promotional opportunities including cross-merchandising garlic with a full array of Asian produce.

The increasing popularity of Indian cuisine is another ideal fit for the produce department to promote the flavor-enhancing characteristic of garlic.

Offer Organic

Smith says organic garlic “continues to grow in popularity with both consumers and retailers.” The company offers a widespread assortment of organic garlic products in many formats.

At Demoulas Super Markets, a dedicated organic section makes it convenient for shoppers to find organic garlic.

“Organic garlic demand did outstrip conventional growth for several years, but recent growth is in line with the expansion of the garlic category,” says Provost.

“Especially since the pandemic, there has been interest in organic items and shoppers not physically touching each piece,” says Klein of Auerbach. “We provide retailers with organic garlic packaged in clamshells or Vex bags. For shoppers or cashiers, there is no mistaking these products are organic.”

Feedback and Social Media

Spice World conducts consumer research throughout the year. “The feedback we receive is the driving force behind the innovation we bring to market,” reveals Smith. He says the company fully evaluates new products with consumers before they are launched. Consumers love to share their own recipes and many of those are shared online with Spice World’s collection of more than 100 recipes.

Homemade salad dressing has never been less intimidating to prepare, thanks to the many quick posts online showing the simple task of adding chopped or crushed garlic to a vinaigrette with a few other ingredients. Online, shoppers have seen the garlic chopped and combined with a few other ingredients for a perfect vinaigrette in 60 seconds or less.

Wow customers with an abundant garlic display and show them how they can count on your store to provide a consistent garlic experience.