PMA workshop helps industry with 'emerging new consumer'
by Chip Carter | November 07, 2010
ORLANDO, FL — An "emerging new consumer" is reshaping the way the
produce industry presents itself. Attendees of a 2010 Produce Marketing
Association Fresh Summit workshop on reaching and relating to that new
consumer heard from a panel of international experts about how to best
begin the process.
“Why is it important to start talking about your brand?” asked Lorna Christie,
executive vice president and chief operating officer of PMA. “We're faced with
an emerging new consumer. We don’t yet have a clear picture of just who that
is, but it is starting to take shape.”
The new American consumer is distrustful of big business and perceives large
agribusiness as part of that industrial complex, leaving the produce industry
vulnerable to negative perceptions among shoppers, Ms. Christie said. “This is
not who we are. We have to rebrand.”
Perceived costs play a role in shopping decisions, too, but “consumers want a
connection with their food. There is more and more interest in local produce,
and that’s not just based on locale. Buying 'local’ is about quality and
freshness — the location of the growers doesn’t matter as much,” Ms. Christie
said, noting that almost 40 percent of Americans shopped at a farmers
market last year. As the Internet has made “our global community shrink,”
local concerns become international ones, and “consumers around the world
The same tools that have made the world seem smaller can be used by the
industry to change consumer perceptions. The Internet and social media
mixed with traditional marketing and advertising efforts can change the way
Americans look at produce — as has been the case with the California
Avocado Commission’s efforts to rebrand its product.
“It’s very important to tell the story of where the food comes from,” said Jan
DeLyser, vice president of marketing for the commission. “You have a story to
tell. Figure out who your target is and what’s going to resonate with them.”
When the commission wanted to engage its audience, it retained the services
of marketing experts, who “helped us understand the value of the brand, the
heart and soul,” Ms. DeLyser said. “They told us consumers wanted to know
who, how and where their avocados were grown.”
The commission realized through market research that its best chance of
connecting with consumers was to undertake “the journey of telling the story
of the California avocado grower,” Ms. DeLyser said. Marketing materials, web
site information, social media and advertising were created to promote
individuals among the 6,000 California growers who farm 60,000 acres of
The research showed the commission not only the value of its brand and
customer perceptions of it, but where those two things intersected — and
other areas where they needed to. From there, the commission was able to
define its target audience, as well as its own distinctions and competitive
advantages. “That became the core and soul of everything we do,” Ms.
The research showed that consumers would accept California avocados as a
“local” product because it is likely none were grown in the areas where they
lived. But when Ms. DeLyser went to corporate clients pitching the idea of
California avocados as a local food, “they laughed me out of the office.”
The commission ditched the local label and went back to the drawing board. It
emerged with “Hand Grown in California,” a phrase that resonated with
consumers and corporate customers.
Once the commission had established which core values it shared with
consumers, it was able to construct a brand promise and define a brand
essence and a brand voice that “set the tone for communication,” Ms. DeLyser
said. From there, “reasonable, realistic business objectives” were set that “are
measurable and have some flexibility.”
Defining itself and its target were the most difficult parts of launching the
new campaign, Ms. DeLyser said. Traditional advertising blended with a
strong web presence and social media to create the new marketing campaign.
The commission has had a web site for 12 years, and last year it was
revamped from the ground up — and a social media campaign was begun.
The commission’s Facebook page now has 58,000 fans, “but numbers mean
nothing if they’re not carrying the torch for your brand and creating sales,”
Ms. DeLyser said. “We encouraged fans to help tell our story. Having
consumers carry the banner has really enriched our marketing efforts.”
The result of the commission’s efforts: New research shows consumers prefer
California avocados to imports nine to one, Ms. DeLyser said.
Granted, the commission had a sizable marketing budget with which to work,
making the task much easier. With plenty of cash for advertising,
consumption of California avocados has doubled over the last decade. But Ms.
DeLyser said that any company can take advantage of on-line networking
opportunities and social media.
The commission’s findings — and success — came as no surprise to panelist
Jelger de Vriend, managing partner of Innovative Fresh B.V., a consulting and
market monitoring firm based in the Netherlands. Europe by its nature has
much experience in focusing on local markets, he said, while the United States
still looks at the big picture. “Europe is thinking small and dealing with local
complexities,” Mr. de Vriend said. “We get our strength from that.”
But that also presents challenges. Produce space in European markets is
committed and limited. The only way new products can gain shelf space is to
“cannibalize” existing ones. Mr. de Vriend said that many changes in
consumer buying habits are anomalous to economic struggles, and that
“long-term research shows main consumer trends have not changed.” In
Europe, consumers have stayed loyal to full-service grocers, proving they
want more from the shopping experience than just low prices.
Convenience, health, taste, price and “good behavior, caring for local
communities,” have become more important to consumers over the last
decade, Mr. de Vriend said. Taste profiles provide the produce industry with
its best chance to better connect with consumers, he said.
“The future of produce is about taste and the consumer,” he said. “Taste is
where we as an industry can create the most consumer value.”
But, Ms. Christie added, whether it is better-tasting food, a more user-
friendly approach or an increased marketing and media presence, “you have
to deliver on what you promise. We have to balance high-tech with high-
touch. Consumers will give you two chances to disappoint them. We’re not
listening. What did you learn in Marketing 101? Perception is reality.”