Fresh produce will sell without marketing. That is a reality. Imagine a grocery store being relevant without a fresh produce department. There is an inherent demand for what we grow pack, ship and sell.
My team cringes when I broach this topic, but it’s very true. Fresh produce is continually consumed, but it is consumed at a 20+ year relatively flat rate, even with the increases we have seen in specific categories (e.g. berries, leafy greens, etc.). However, based on the flat consumption of fresh food in the last 5 years and the health crisis in this country, it is evident that fresh produce is far from meeting its potential as a food choice. That’s where marketing comes in.
A Look Back on Fresh Produce Marketing
Relative to food marketing, fresh produce has been an oppressed food group to say the least. Food marketing has been dominated by processed foods and the fast food chains since the 1940s and 50s. The food giants have had the volume, margins, and thus the marketing dollars to sell their mostly manufactured, shelf-stable products. They dominated the available marketing channels – TV, print, radio and billboards.
So because of this limitation for our category of food, historically marketing has not been on the “must do” list for fresh produce companies. Alternatively we have depended on retailers and restaurants to solely carry the marketing tab for the last 65 five years. The older members of our current population depended on what was on store shelves, packaging and menus to provide them with the inspiration and information about their food choices.
We started to see the impact of our increasing dependence on processed foods in the 70s, largely fueled by the monopolistic nature of food marketing. In 1977 the U.S. Senate released a report stating the leading causes of death in the U.S. were linked to diet. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until internet 2.0 and the birth of social media in early 2000s, that we realized we have an obesity crisis and proliferation of health related diseases stemming from the food we eat.
A Significant Shift in the Food Marketing Landscape
By 2006 (one decade ago), Time Magazine’s person of the year was “You,” signifying the importance of user-generated content. People were increasingly seeking to understand more about the food they eat, the cars they buy, the places they travel, etc. on their own time and in their own preferred method. For the first time, this opened the door for all brand sizes and budgets to use marketing to connect directly with people.
Fresh food is a prime beneficiary to this significant shift in societal behavior created by the internet and social media for two reasons: 1. People eat and 2. People have always been social, especially when they eat.
So for the last 15 years, we have been trying to find our way as fresh produce marketers. It’s easy to hang on to what makes sense or makes us comfortable - ads in trade pubs, booths at trade shows, etc. - because even with the door wide open and a seat at the food marketing table), we continue to struggle with the integration of consumer marketing into our marketing mix. We want to reach the consumer, but fail to truly embrace what it takes to succeed in this new frontier.
Why is this? It’s not that we don’t understand the power of the internet and social to reach ANY audience, this fact is proven every second of every day. To be dedicated to this practice requires a significant leap, is uncomfortable as hell and challenging. It’s much more comfortable to remain the same, ignore the facts, and behave more like a commodity. The easiest thing for us to do is to rely on what’s worked in the past, because quite honestly it’s pretty damn reliable.
But for companies who seek growth, to increase margins, trust and relevance for our products and services, we must understand how people are obtaining information and making decisions today and adjust our businesses accordingly.
What 2016 Offers Fresh Produce Brands
I predict 2016 will be the year fresh produce brands truly start to see marketing as a key driver for sales and profitable growth. This will be the year the early adopters of digital and social will realize the demand being generated from their efforts are making a difference for their brands, products and services.
For the produce brands that are just starting to expand and invest in their marketing efforts, I encourage you to utilize the resources that you have available to you that will help you learn, absorb and act in a way that will propel your brand in the next decade and not leave it behind.
I look forward to the marketing magic that we create together in 2016.
Image source: Time Magazine, 2006