Spreading the word

Many produce growers and marketers have integrated their online and offline marketing campaigns to promote their brand image, paving the way for retailers to follow.

 By Elizabeth Louise Hatt

Retailers will soon be hard-pressed to find a consu­mer in the store without a smartphone in their pock­et. These mini-computers have consumers checking email, connecting to social media sites and downloading coupons and flyers—while they are shopping.

This evolving online network is prompting retailers and marketers to change the way they interact with customers and incorporate web and mobile touch points into their marketing campaigns, say industry observers.

“Online marketing primes the consumer for offline encounters, boosting the overall effectiveness of retailers’ in-store displays, point-of-purchase signage and cross-merchandising,” says Ralph Schwartz, director of category management and value added marketing for Potandon Produce, based in Idaho Falls, Idaho.

The produce department specifically can benefit from the instantaneous nature of mobile and web alerts to promote products on a weekly, daily or even hourly basis. Many produce growers and marketers have already found a niche in using Quick Response (QR) codes in their print ads to link shoppers to online information about nutrition, history of the farmers and healthy recipe ideas as well as coupons and discount codes.  Additionally, they are facilitating discussions through social media sites and blogs, creating a trail for retailers to do the same.

A recent technology, the QR code, links between a retailer’s POS materials or signage and its online presence. Domex Superfresh Growers, based in Yakima, Wash., uses QR codes in its advertisements allowing consumers to upload a PDF file or website that provides information about the fruit or discount offers.

“These kind of opportunities are more abundant and easier for consumers to access with their smart phones,” says Loren Queen, marketing and communications manager for Superfresh Growers. “It’s very new so a lot of people haven’t explored it yet, but you are going to see that change over the course of the next 12 to 18 months. More retailers are coming online with apps for their stores and using instant couponing, such as running hourly or daily ads via QR coding.”

Many growers use QR codes in their print advertisements to direct traffic to their social media sites before the user even gets to the store, say observers. Retailers who are not using social media and mobile are missing out on the influence, says Tracey Altman, vice president of marketing for Fresherized Foods, who has seen the potential firsthand. The Saginaw, Texas-based company teamed up with a retailer to conduct a Facebook promotion during St. Patrick’s Day that required people to write their favorite green treat on the retailer’s Facebook page. “The retailer was so surprised with how many comments there were. They had over 60 comments, when they usually get about a dozen. It is not about pushing a product or sale; it is about engaging people and starting a conversation.”

Conversation is a benefit of social media in a retail environment. With the popularity of websites like Twitter, Facebook and the countless blogs available, as well as the mobile apps available for each, consumers expect to be able to not just learn about a retail location before they actually arrive, but interact with it, say observers.

Green Giant Fresh (GGF), based in Salinas, Calif., is starting its conversation through the recently launched Green Giant Fresh blog. The blog joins the Facebook page, which is used to link readers to recipes on the company’s website. “We felt we wanted to post about the fresh side of our business and what we do with the trade side of things,” says Mishalin Modena, marketing manager for GGF’s marketing arm, Growers Express. “We want to use the blog as a forum to educate consumers and announce promotions. It’s just one more way to get information in front of people and allow it to be useful.”

To bring retailers into the equation the company teams up with supermarkets running promotions on GGF products and advertises it online. “We found that people who are loyal to the brand are on the website reading about it. Retailers should do the same. There are shoppers on retailers’ websites looking for coupons and deals; this gives them an open opportunity to work with vendors to create exclusive branded promotions,” says Modena. She adds that the company has found significant success with retailers who shifted over and brought in more branded product versus private label.

Growers Express and GGF will soon be launching a consumer-favorite, Box Tops, on GGF produce to help boost sales—with an added an online element. “For example, consumers that buy a bag of romaine hearts, there is a label to bring to school to redeem, but there is also a code on the package they can enter on the website to redeem an additional 10 cents for their child,” says Modena. To take it a step further, the program can be tailored to retail outlets to help drive traffic. “We offer exclusive Box Tops promotions on the packages sent to a particular store. Retailers can offer promotions such as ‘buy five GGF items and get 25 Box Tops,’ to reward their consumers for shopping at their store. We hope retailers take advantage of it. Based on past research, 79% of moms are willing to change retailers or brands based on a good cause,” she adds.

The expanding online environment encourages customized retail offerings and promotions. Growers and marketers are using them to help retailers reach their targeted market. Potanton Produce developed its e-mail marketing program with flexibility and customization for this purpose, says Schwartz. “We are able to segment our mailing list to send targeted messages to consumers based on their preferred shopping location or region. The duality of our program is that it brings attention to both the retailers and our brand.”

Launching this month, the company’s most recent online promotion, America’s Outdoors Recipe Contest, encourages consumers to submit their favorite grill or Dutch oven recipes for a chance to win a grand prize trip for four to Yellowstone National Park.

Spreading the word online and sending mobile notifications can only work for retailers if they connect and support their offline and in-store marketing approach. Observers say retailers should stick with tried and true display and promotional tactics. When it comes to in-store merchandising, they say cross-promotions still comes out on top.

Sunsweet Growers, based in Yuba City, Calif., saw a boost in its dried fruit sales when it ran a cross-promotion with Dole salads. “We had a coupon that went on the Dole Salad bags and saw an increase, probably in the 10% range,” says Jeff McLemore, product manager for dried fruits. “People are looking for healthier options and dried fruit is a good complement to salads.”

Getting product in a secondary location is also important for McLemore. “Secondary displays lift sales substantially. People don’t often recognize where dried fruit is merchandised—we are located with produce in 30% to 40% of stores and in the baking aisle for the remaining,” he says.

Superfresh Growers has also found success cross promoting with other brands. That includes a recent display contest with Litehouse Foods’ dips. “We worked with a wholesaler who supplies military commissaries and provided the POS materials for various locations. As a result, we saw a 28% lift in dollars for our apple sales,” says Queen. “I think that’s how you have to approach these things, by involving more than one item and making sure you draw attention with great signage, POS information and consumer education.”

Observers say that manufacturers efforts make it easy for retailer’s to emphasize cross-promotion on the floor. A good example of this is Fresherized Foods recent Super Bowl promotion, Homegating Headquarters. By creating a website that connected 20 or so complementary brands and products, it gave consumers a destination to find recipes, party ideas and special offers online—and provided retailers with display and merchandising ideas on the floor.

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