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Critical Communication.

Byline: Jan DeLyser

The produce industry has the opportunity to promote the pleasures of eating fresh fruits and vegetables while tapping into consumers' interests and concerns.

Government and other consumer influencers, including commodity boards and retailers alike, are spreading the word to eat more fruits and vegetables. If consumers heed these messages and actually change their behavior, the stars will align for unprecedented demand growth in produce.

Are we as an industry doing all we can to help make this happen? Are we prepared to make the necessary changes to maximize the opportunity to increase consumption?

According to Visual Economics 2011, fruits and vegetables currently comprise about one-third of the food consumed by Americans today. At retail, that's about 27 billion pounds of produce. To simplify the math, let's focus on the produce part of the MyPlate icon and evaluate what it takes to make produce half the volume of the American diet: 40 billion pounds, or nearly a 50 percent increase over today's produce volume. It may take a while, but I believe Americans and the produce industry can get there.

To do so, health and nutrition communication will be critical, and supermarket registered dietitians (SRDs) could play a vital role. SRDs operate at corporate, regional or division levels, and some retailers are expanding to offer an SRD at every store. The California Avocado Commission (CAC) works with SRDs to spread the word about California avocado nutritional benefits and ways to encourage consumption of avocados with other produce items, yielding outstanding results.

The produce industry has the opportunity to promote the pleasures of eating fresh fruits and vegetables while tapping into consumers' interests and concerns. The commission uses consumer research and trends to understand our consumers and to create messages that resonate with them. We also work with artisan chefs, foodservice menu developers, key influencers and consumers to develop new avocado recipes and usage ideas that go beyond traditional guacamole. In the past decade, U.S. avocado consumption has more than doubled, a sign that efforts by CAC and other avocado marketing and distribution organizations are paying off.

Retailers do a great job with themed promotions that capitalize on holidays and special occasions. However, there's opportunity for increased integration of fresh fruits and vegetables in promotions, thereby boosting basket ring and produce consumption. This year, CAC will position California avocados as a perfect ingredient for the American summer holidays, from Memorial Day to the Fourth of July through Labor Day. Super Bowl and Cinco de Mayo are already strong consumption events for avocados. Our goal is to help retailers build another must-have avocado event for July Fourth, during peak season for California avocados. We're also encouraging higher basket rings by cross-promoting with other produce and grocery items.

Social media and emerging communications are changing the way the food industry communicates with consumers in their homes, on the go and in-store. Coupled with traditional media, the potential for produce is endless. One of the biggest opportunities to catapult fruit and vegetable consumption to the next level may lie with retailers' powerful pinpoint data programs targeting consumers based on their shopping habits and history. But how often are those programs used to promote fruits and vegetables? For UPC-based items, there are tools to target consumers based on consumption levels, purchase frequency, the other items they buy and more.

Unfortunately, less is known about the purchase behavior of produce, because PLU codes fall short of providing much-needed detail. With an improved coding system, there could be a huge upside to moving from the traditional merchandising of produce items as commodities to data-driven, benefits-based marketing of fruits and vegetables.

Jan DeLyser is VP of marketing for the Irvine-based California Avocado Commission.
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Author:DeLyser, Jan
Publication:Progressive Grocer
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2012
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