Food Forum: Betting on brands

As the produce department evolves, branded fruits and vegetables are poised to lead the way.   

By Ralph Schwartz

As the world around us continues to change, new opportunities will emerge for the top produce companies to further delight consumers. Amazing new fRalphSchwartzruits and vegetables are being brought to market from across the globe. However, in today’s ever-changing marketplace it takes more than just a new or unique product to spell success. Consumer outreach programs, electronic marketing and a strong advertising platform will all be critical components, but unless the companies are leading with a powerful brand, it might not be enough to get product on the shelves and into the kitchens.

A quick glance at many produce departments demonstrates the impact of branded fruits and vegetables. Large categories where bulk displays or store label products were the norm several years ago are now being driven by packaged goods with recognizable brand names and being supported by teams of marketers. Historically strong labels like Green Giant potatoes, Fresh Express Salads and Driscoll berries are being joined by newcomers such as Cuties Clementine’s and Hobgoblin Grapes. These brands all have a common thread, which is the ability to speak to consumers in more ways than just at the shelf edge. The reputation of Welch’s grapes goes back more than 100 years and the message has always been peak quality. Sunkist, the oldest citrus fruit cooperative in America, continues to evolve and grow. The stories are all well known within the industry and will continue to be written for generations to come. Ask any executive from these leading companies and you will soon see that maintaining that image and building a continued high loyalty level throughout the years takes hard work and a focus on understanding the changing needs of shoppers.

Today’s consumer is empowered on a level unheard of even ten years ago. They shop with smartphone in hand and place a level of expectation on retailers that puts them on notice to “get it right” or they will not be back.  New technologies allow for on-the-spot research, price comparisons and alternative marketplaces right at their fingertips. Social media and the high level of connectivity it brings can take a single negative or a single positive experience to viral levels through sharing online. Web-based activities are an integral part of insuring that these new consumers have access to the features that sell fresh produce.

Having that strong brand and the social and web-based engines that support those brands lead to a higher level of success—both at the register with higher rings, and in the kitchen with recipe support. The retailers that take advantage of branded produce get much more than they might realize.

Brands also hold the power to introduce new and innovative items into their respective categories. The strength of the Green Giant brand helped Klondike Rose potatoes gain rapid market acceptance when they were introduced a decade ago. Frieda’s introduced the Kiwi fruit to the U.S. market and they continue to bring unique items to stores across the nation on their reputation of innovation. The leadership of branded companies often set the stage for packaging changes and adaptation to other trends such as microwaveable and convenience pouches. Responding to the trends of today and into the future are key components to branded produce companies marketing platforms.

Speaking of the future, we keep hearing that the brick-and-mortar supermarket of today is certain to change, if and when that happens, brands will be there to pave the way. With Internet sales expected to be a part of the future retail landscape, online sellers of fresh produce will certainly face some challenges and trepidation. Leading with branded produce items, which consumers know and trust, will prove to be a powerful tool to ease buyers into the online marketplace. Smarter retailing will lead to smarter consumers, and we all know that smart consumers eat a lot of produce. That is why betting on brands spells success in the produce department.

Ralph Schwartz is vice president of sales, marketing and innovation at Potandon Produce. He can be reached at rschwartz@potandon.com.

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