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Wholesum using social media to communicate with customers

by Rand Green | January 10, 2011
Wholesum Family Farms Inc. (formerly Cris-P Produce) in Nogales, AZ, recently adopted its new name and also rolled out the new "Wholesum Harvest" brand as part of a marketing effort to better communicate the “values and … core strengths” of a family business that now focuses exclusively on organic products,” according to Ricardo Crisantes, general manager. “On the marketing side, we have done a lot, but we still have a lot to do” to tell the company's story to customers and consumers, Mr. Crisantes told The Produce News Jan. 17.

The company is expanding its marketing efforts with a new emphasis on social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter.

“We have explored social media and social networks and how that can work in our industry and for our company,” Mr. Crisantes said. “It has certainly been a hot topic. It is a new tool so it’s got its challenges.” What works for other industries “doesn’t necessarily translate to this industry, but we have dived into it and looked into its potential” and are “trying to develop a way to communicate with our customers and also with our consumers.”

Wholesum Family Farms, which markets such products as organically grown tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and squash, “mostly sells to either retailers or wholesalers but not [directly] to the ultimate consumer” and therefore has not had a “direct relationship with the consumer,” he said.

But he believes that social media may provide “that direct relationship that can help us go and tell customers we have great tomatoes, we have great cucumbers, we have great peppers.”

By so doing, the hope is that besides selling its products to retail buyers, the company will be able to help retailers sell the products in their stores. “That would be the ultimate goal … to help our customers” by using “a communications tool like social media to help them sell our product. We are just beginning to tinker with that.”

“We started our Facebook Wholesum Harvest [page] as well as a Twitter site and are seeing what would work in that medium that relates to our industry,” he said. “We also have a new web site that we are trying to finish up and launch, but Facebook and Twitter are already up.”

They are “new tools,” he said, “so finding out what will work and what will resonate “ is challenging. “In my limited experience, you build it, but then you’ve got to promote it, and once you promote it, you still have to provide relevant content to keep people engaged.”

The content of a Facebook page “has to add value to the relationship” with other Facebook users, he observed. “Why would you follow it? Why would you invest time in Wholesum Harvest on Facebook? Figuring that out will be a challenge, but it is certainly a very exciting and promising strategy for us” and it is currently “our biggest project in marketing.”

Organic produce differs from conventional produce in ways that are not readily visible to consumers except for, possibly, “a little PLU sticker,” Mr. Crisantes said. “Organics is really about the way it is grown, but it doesn’t show in the product. Telling that story — the way the product has been grown, the care it has been given — is really the highlight of the product, so in educating consumers we have our work cut out for us. It is a daunting task for a small organic company.” But “we are really putting a lot of effort into getting that done, and we are really hoping that social media can help us on that.”