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Consumers of the 1980's are light years away from their predecessors in attitude, purchasing patterns and product preferences. Today's grocery store shoppers are better educated and more traveled, and their purchases reflect this. They enjoy the good life, and the products they buy prove it.

The trend to "healthful eating" continues to impact the marketplace. Fruits and vegetables, as a result, are enjoing widespread popularity.

Farmers and grocers have united to meet this new consumer demand. Supermarket produce departments have seen a 33% increase in items available over the last two years, with less seasonality than ever before.

The on-the-go lifestyles of the '80s consumers, though make them look for grocery items that also offer convenience. Therefore, despite the greater variety of fresh produce offered, many consumers continue to prefer the convenience of processed vegetables. A study conducted by the Food Institute, a food research and information association, shows the consumption of processed peas, corn and green beans climbed nearly 85% since 1945. The U.S. population increased only 65% during those same years.

The sales increase was seen mostly in the frozen category. Since 1945, grocery stores have expanded their use of freezers to accomodate frozen vegetables. Frozen products were--and continue to be--perceived by consumers as the next best thing to fresh, both nutritionally and from the standpoint of quality.

Other factors, such as the current health issue of lead and sodium content in canned products, accelerated the trend away from canned vegetables.

As more consumers switched to frozen and fresh, vegetable packing companies responded by lowering prices, hoping this would lure customers. To keep prices lower, many companies subsequently lowered quality as well. The result: More often than not, consumers found stereotyped limp, colorless, flavorless vegetables in the cans they opened. Despite this Catch-22, the canned vegetable market is a $3.2 billion category, with 97% of all consumers buying at least one canned vegetable at some time during the year.

How does a company like Aunt Nellie's Foods regain consumer confidence and encourage both initial and repeat purchases of its canned vegetable products?

First, we launced an extensive market research program to discover exactly what the consumer of the '80s wants. We found the overriding influence in all pruchases was the demand for high quality products and services. With a large number of these consumers living in dual- or multiwage earning households, they can afford to pay the price for the quality they demand. The '80s consumer also demands variety.

In response to these findings, Aunt Nellie's increased its product line to include 23 high-quality glass and tin-packed items. We made the commitment to consumers to supply only fancy grade vegetables. The commit to 100% fancy assures consumers that they will get premium quality vegetables in every can or jar of Aunt Nellie's vegetables purchased.

Then, we initiated an extensive electronic and print media advertising program to give consumers the positive story of canned vegetables, while spreading the works of our quality commitment.

What information will build customer trial? First, the nutritional attributes of canned vegetables will do so. Despite popular belief, studies conducted by the National Food Processors Association show that nutritional differences between fresh and processed vegetables are minimal when compared with fresh vegetables that have been cooked.

Also, the processing of glass and tin-packed vegetables does not alter fiber contributions. Though canning may soften the fiber, research proves it doesn't destroy it. Along those same lines, current processing equipment and techniques have decreased the total processing time. The resulting product retains its "fresh" color and much of the "direct from the field" texture.

We also are emphasizing the convenience of canned vegetables. All that needs to be dome in the kitchen is to heat the vegetables to preferred serving temperature.

Throughout the campaign, we emphasize Aunt Nellie's commitment to providing fancy grade vegetables in every can and jar.

What effect does this have on the category? We'll be generating new excitement in a category that has been too stable and "eat in its ways" over the years. The commitment to quality will set a new standard for the industry which other companies will have to meet if they want the consumer dollar.
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Author:Legat, James
Publication:Progressive Grocer
Date:Jan 1, 1985
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