Supermarket News recently ran a story about heirloom produce varieties, concluding the article talking about the broader topic of the growing consumer love affair with authentic food experiences.
Although the word “heirloom” alone suggests a story, Kathy Means, [vice president of government relations and public affairs at the Produce Marketing Association] said that the trend’s takeaway is about the connection consumers are seeking with produce.
“This is about being connected to the earth, connected to our food,” she said.
“You don’t need the heirloom varieties to do that, and we always encourage folks to connect with their customers, with the consumer, and tell the produce story because that’s very, very important.”
Its a familiar story to us. MJR has long advocated on behalf of our fresh produce, wine, and food clients about the value of authenticity to consumers, and how brand storytelling draws them to and builds loyalty to products with an honest appeal. And yet, aside from savvy chains like New Jersey-based Kings Food Markets mentioned in the Supermarket News article, most retailers don’t get it.
The modern consumer wants to be romanced in the produce aisle. They desire a sense of connectedness with their food sources. The skyrocketing rise of organics, the dramatic return of the farmer’s market, the proliferation of food networks and food blogs are all testaments to this change. For years both the trade press and the Produce Marketing Association has been urging the produce industry to stand up and make their stories available to consumers and independent research continues to support this approach. Top-tier agencies like MJR complete the circle by creating beautiful and smart retailer and consumer communications that bring the story of the grower to the consumer.
But where a bridge should exist between fresh produce brand conversation and the consumer, we instead find a barrier. As grocery retailers continue to state that they understand the value of bringing the story of the farmer to consumers, diminishing opportunities exist within the produce department to do so. Current display trends demand a unified store-branded environment, allowing for few, if any, branded point of sale messaging opportunities.
There are exceptions. Obviously Kings Food Markets gets it. Trader Joe’s sort of gets it, as does Whole Foods — they tell producer stories and identify produce sources and by doing so celebrate the opportunities for fresh produce to connect with consumers. But most major retailers don’t. Their produce departments look like the one below – the product is pretty, but where are the stories?
In contrast, the grocery aisle is full of brands, each package striving for consumer attention. When you have a package, you have a means by which a product can communicate with a consumer, a vehicle that tells a story and/or directs a consumer to a webpage that tells that story. It’s those stories, and the corresponding brand loyalty that drives sales. With few exceptions, fresh produce does not have the luxury of a package. So then, how can growers and packers communicate with consumers at the moment they are making their purchase decision? How can the stories that we know consumers value so much be told? Where is the opportunity to tell the story?
With the expanding possibilities of consumer connection that exist with social media and the web, even small produce growers and brands can touch consumers in ways never before possible. Brands and the agencies that serve them can create compelling connection vehicles on the internet with web and social experiences, but we have to get them there, and that opportunity only exists in the produce aisles. Every time a consumer stands before a featureless bin of apples or pears or cataloupe, an engagement opportunity is lost; a powerful way for a retailer to achieve a sales lift is wasted. The produce department is the natural, appropriate conduit to begin that connection–it is the bridge between producer and consumer.
This is our call to the entire supply chain of the fresh produce industry to continue to push for opportunities to talk about the care and effort you make to provide safe, delicious, mouth-watering flavor to the tables of America. Take the research and data and make the case to the Super Valu’s, the Krogers, the Publix’s, et al. Spread the word about the connections that are being made with consumers in produce departments that take the time to reach out to consumers with information about the fresh products they sell. Firms like MJR can provide the data, tools and strategies, together we can continue to push for the change.
We’d love to hear your thoughts. Feel free to leave a comment, or email me at bradley[at]mjrcg.com.
- Bradley Fitzhenry, Brand Manager MJR Creative Group
Bradley on Google+