United Fresh, one of the major produce industry trade groups, held their annual BrandStorm produce marketing conference last week in San Francisco. Several hundred marketing staff from produce growers and suppliers – as well as service providers like Zest Labs – turned out for an opportunity to hear from experts from the produce and other industries to discuss trends and issues – and generate ideas.

Produce Marketing: Improving Your Strategy

Tamsen Webster’s keynote led off the BrandStorm produce marketing conference. She instructed the audience that people buy ideas and that all ideas are an answer to a question. All ideas, she explained, are meant to change what people do and how they think. She said that, as marketers, we can’t create changes in behavior, only the conditions for change. We need to put our market’s needs and goals first, not our own.

She continued by explaining that we need to make “the problem impossible to ignore.” (I term this, figuring out what the pain point is.) Produce marketing professionals should start by figuring out what people already want. If the consumers goal is to get healthy and lose weight, for example, we need to find the truth that makes change a part of their goal and come to agree that, without the change, their goal is in jeopardy.

For example, people are increasingly looking for healthy snack options, but they want something they can grab quickly and easily consume. When snacking, they’re not likely to take the time to wash and cut vegetables. How can produce marketing professionals create the conditions that make change easy and abet the customer’s ability to achieve their goal. This drives to the development of produce products that focus on health, convenience and packaging.

Produce Marketing: The Value of a Brand

Produce marketing is challenging. Most consumers don’t head into the produce department thinking about brands, as most produce items are commodities, whereas we’ll look for a particular brand of potato chips or breakfast cereal. This leaves the produce grower and supplier to compete on price. Yes, there are a few exceptions – Driscoll’s strawberries come to mind along with some branded bagged salad blends perhaps – but most consumers won’t know one brand of iceberg lettuce from another or care…and that’s if you can even tell who produced the fruit or vegetable to begin with.

Some producers are finding new ways to offer their product. One producer who spoke at BrandStorm, Cece’s Veggie Company, is focused on spiral slicing veggies to produce a noodle-like, healthier option for pasta, for example.

In the end, consumers want to buy from companies that they trust, and that trust relationship is generally with their grocer, not with the supplier. As such, if suppliers want to establish their brand, their produce marketing needs to differentiate with new packaging or a brand value like superior freshness. Superior freshness, for example, could drive brand value for both the grocer and the supplier. By generating value, such as freshness that leads to longer shelf-life, brands can generate attention.

Marketing Mangos and Avocados

There were two speakers at BrandStorm representing product trade groups, Valda Coryat of the National Mango Board and Alvaro Luque of Avocados from Mexico discussed their produce marketing strategies.

Coryat discussed how she’s focused on creating mangos as a brand and trying to increase awareness and sales of mangos, regardless of the grower. She mentioned that mangos are the most consumed fruit in the world – just not in the USA. The Mango Board is trying to position mangos as the “Super Fun Super Fruit” and associate eating mangos with a fun, carefree life.

Avocados from Mexico is most famous for their Super Bowl commercials, now on their fifth year. He explained that his produce marketing goal is to increase avocado consumption across the board, whether they’re grown in Mexico, California or anywhere else. Of course, not many produce companies have $4 million to spend on a Super Bowl commercial (or the additional millions to produce the commercial and associated marketing programs) but the techniques they’re employing can be applicable to all of us. They’ve been creative and differentiated in their marketing, creating a fun and entertaining series of messages that promote their brand strengths of healthier snacking options and the “Mexican experience.” And, the avocado market – and their share of it – has grown substantially – by more than seventy percent.

We Are the Healthiest in the Grocery Store

As an industry, produce marketing needs to re-educate consumers that we’re the healthiest department in the grocery store. We need to connect with consumers at an emotional level. We need to be conscious of and promote food safety, transparency and sustainability – all things consumers increasingly value. BrandStorm addressed a variety of topics and, I think, stirred passion and creativity among the attendees.

Hopefully United Fresh will continue to promote these topics at future BrandStorm events (and hopefully some webinars and other educational produce marketing programs throughout the year).

The challenge, however, is that many growers and suppliers don’t have much in the way of produce marketing staff or budgets. I met one person who said she “headed up value added products and did the marketing when she had time.” Another person asked Luque of Avocados from Mexico if he had any advice for someone who had a small fraction of one percent of Luque’s marketing budget (aka maybe a couple of hundred thousand bucks). I don’t know if Luque had a really good answer that question, but I would offer up that we need to:

  • Think in terms of the challenges and needs of our target customer.
  • Design programs that aspire to their hopes and dreams.
  • Be creative and appeal to their emotions.

Mary Shacklett just published an article in Destination CRM called Marketing’s Dilemma: In-House or Outsourced? It provides some tips and ideas about how smaller marketing departments can leverage outside resources to develop programs and flesh out marketing campaigns. Produce marketing professionals with challenges budgets or small staff may find this helpful.

Now I need to figure out what I can make with avocados and mangos!