Retailers Need Fresh Approach to Produce

Discussion
Oct 29, 2013

The produce industry needs to get much better at innovating in order to keep the shopper engaged and the cash registers ringing up fruit and vegetable sales. Specifically, growers, shippers and retailers need to draw on the model of Silicon Valley and the hi-tech world to better understand consumers to create incremental demand for produce. That was one of the key messages at the 64th annual PMA Fresh Summit Convention and Exposition in New Orleans last week.

"This morning I set out to hold up a mirror to you, to challenge and hopefully inspire you, to suggest different ways of thinking about what you do — and most of all, why you do it," Bryan Silbermann, the association’s president and CEO, said in his opening address.

Mr. Silbermann cited companies like Apple and Amazon as examples of thinking beyond the box. The industry has reached a tipping point for the implementation of the Produce Traceability Initiative, he said. It’s time to use the improved transparency to create greater value and build the flow of information for the industry so they can improve marketing knowledge from farm to fork. He gave this quote from PMA director Ellie Grant: "Traceability insights will enable retailers to make smarter choices about their sourcing and receiving process, reducing shrink and markdowns and optimizing freshness and quality which ultimately will result in improved shopper loyalty."

Mr. Silbermann also said the industry has not focused enough attention and resources on demand creation. Companies need to start thinking of themselves as marketers, not just farmers and category managers. They need to play to the emotions of customers to be artists and artisans. He also suggested taking a page or two out of the playbooks of the snack food markers to use data to better understand the consumer and create fruit and vegetable passion.

Where are the biggest opportunities for produce companies and retailers to use technology to improve their businesses? What marketing lessons can produce companies and retailers take from tech companies to achieve incremental growth?

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8 Comments on "Retailers Need Fresh Approach to Produce"

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Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

Today, it would be a full rollout of traceability.

Variations on that theme might include technologies to ensure freshness and quality (measurements of hydration, ambient storage/shipping temperatures, etc.) and some form of interactive POS displays to showcase cooking and/or home handling techniques.

They might also try some forms of viral marketing and/or social networking to let potential customers know when the freshest product was arriving at local markets and where to go to pick it up.

One last thought. Produce companies might pay some attention to how tech companies roll out new products – how they create demand for items people were unaware they needed.

It’s a lot better than dumping a bin of product out there that nobody has ever tasted, cooked with or could even identify. Just an idea.

Anne Howe
BrainTrust

Ryan – great thought on new produce. Why not even a simple video with a quick tutorial on what it is, where it came from, how it tastes and three usage ideas? Simple – like Veggie Tales.

I like traceable for produce – but those that really care are typically at the farmer’s market on weekends talking to the farmers they buy from on a regular basis. I hope at least a few smart retailers choose to invest in humans who can talk to shoppers about produce versus just technology. Purchase influence, after all, is most effective via face-to-face conversations.

Mark Heckman
BrainTrust
We are all besieged with emails, websites, and advertisements touting the latest “common sense” sustainable diet. But whether it is lo-card, no-carb, high metabolic, and a host of other iterations of modified food consumption, they all include fresh fruits and vegetables. Yet when I traverse produce departments in a variety of retailers, I have yet to find any that do a credible job in showcasing the PRACTICAL dietary benefits of consuming more produce. Sure there are general programs, like 5-a-Day, the Food Pyramid, and others that communicate the general wellness benefits of fruits and vegetables, but despite the availability of new in-store communications media such as kiosks, digital signage, video touch screens and of course hundreds of mobile apps, I believe there is still a mighty vacuum when it comes to a program that I can practically relate to, stay engaged with, and actually change my eating habits. There is plenty of content out there to do so and while there are third-party marketing services that have attempted to harness this content, cogent business models have hindered their progress. Food-u-Cate, VEEP Eating and Exercise system, and EatRightAmerica, to name just a few, are all good programs with ample nutritional content… Read more »
Nikki Baird
BrainTrust
So I’m no pro when it comes to the produce supply chain, but I am probably one of the pickiest shoppers around when it comes to selecting produce. And as a consumer, I definitely have issues with the produce section. I have memories in my shining youth of being able to buy seasonal varieties of fruit – white peaches in summer, at least three or four different kinds of plums. And they were all ripe and delicious. There’s a ton of produce that is already branded, beyond Chiquita bananas. As Rocky Ford is still recovering from the cantaloupe salmonella poisoning issues, there is brand value to be gained or lost from the region that specific produce comes from. But I’ll tell you, I never see it at the shelf. My grocery store carried one type of peach all summer, and every single one of them was rock hard or mealy. And I’m just not buying those. I honestly don’t understand what happened to the varieties and freshness of my youth – if I just remember it all much better than it was, if it was because I grew up in Southern California where you could pick grapefruit off the tree… Read more »
Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
BrainTrust

What do the consumers want? Fresh product, sizes or amounts that can be consumed before spoiling, combinations of products that can be used in making meals without a lot of product left to spoil, packaging that protects the product, knowing when the freshest products are available, etc. Knowing what the consumers want would lead to a whole host of innovations. Ryan mentioned traceability – that may not be something the consumer might identify as important but would find very useful as soon as there is a product recall.

Stan Barrett
Guest
Stan Barrett
3 years 10 months ago

Three quick comments. Traceability can be used to tell a story: see Wegmans – xxxx apples brought to you by XXXX and their family. Farmers market connection in big retail environment.

Second, tell me why it is special: xxx variety of apple at x price point and YYY variety at yyy price point – why? I will probably believe you, just tell me.

Third, on the issue of quality: I will generalize that it is almost better in the West and South – longer growing seasons, imported product closer. But if the quality is not going to be good, don’t sell it. Peaches in December? Might as well go with canned or frozen. Again, tell me why you don’t have it and suggest an alternative. Take a page from APPLE – create a shortage if necessary to make a point of how good it is when it is available.

Brian Numainville
BrainTrust

While traceability is important, that is something that many consumers aren’t going to perceive a benefit from until something negative happens. On the other hand, having folks in the produce department that can help shoppers (and know the department offerings well), offering samples of produce items, incorporating informational displays, and utilizing technology to support the in-store efforts could all be a positive.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

Now is as good a time as any to introduce significant changes to a part of the supermarket that hasn’t basically changed in 100 years. Sure, we have some scales at the POS, etc., but I believe there are some great ways to evolve this department by taking advantage of best practices around the world. Yet there is definitely a “retro” trend happening in departments that reflect old-fashioned farmers’ markets, and that may tend to hinder progress.

Some marketing hints to execute at store level could be on-floor cooking/food prep classes; food processors for customer use to slice veggies onsite; product info beyond “COOL,” but to include innovative uses, etc.

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