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Branded produce has become such a hot topic that the United Fresh Produce Marketing & Merchandising Council is hosting a post-United Fresh 2014 show conference devoted to the subject.
Al Ries, the legendary brand strategist who has consulted with heavyweights from AT&T to Green Giant and Tony Robbins, will keynote the conference in Chicago on June 13.
?One big change facing produce marketers is branding, whether it?s a specialty brand, local, organic or private label,? says John Toner, VP, conventions and industry relations for the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association.
As more brands seek to establish stellar reputations with retailers and consumers alike, Toner sees a new quality standard taking hold. ?Branding has made the produce industry smarter. It?s made people care more about the consumer, about quality and about delighting with every bite,? he asserts.
And if the United Fresh 2014 new product award finalists are any indication, the industry is innovating like never before via brand extensions, products and packaging.
?This year, we had 25 percent more new product submissions than in previous years,? notes Toner. ?There?s been a lot of investment in packaging and innovation, particularly packaged vegetables, which saw a very big increase this year. Overall, I think our industry is doing a great deal with the value-added trend towards meal solutions.?
According to the ?FreshFacts on Retail Year in Review? report from United Fresh, Del Monte Fresh Produce and the Nielsen Perishables Group, value-added vegetables in 2013 posted average weekly dollar and volume growth of 10.2 percent and 11.2 percent compared with 2012.
To Toner?s point, in the meal solutions arena, side dishes generated a remarkable 56.4 percent of value-added vegetable dollar sales during 2013, and drove dollar and volume growth for the category. Meal prep, which made up 15.3 percent of value-added vegetable sales during 2013, increased 6.3 percent in average weekly dollar sales and 5.9 percent in average weekly volume.
Consumers and retailers alike are essentially speaking a new language in branded specialty produce, thanks to the innovators at Frieda?s Inc., the Los Alamitos, Calif.-based company that has shoppers asking for everything from Kiwano Melon to Stokes Purple Sweet Potatoes.
The cutting-edge specialty produce company recently launched its ?Eat One Fruit A Day That Scares You? campaign to encourage shoppers to try new fruits and share their experience through social media with the hashtag #FearNoFruit.
?It?s also a great campaign for retailers, wholesalers, and foodservice during the summer, when tropical fruits are popular,? notes Karen Caplan, Frieda?s president and CEO.
Frieda?s most sizzling summertime sellers are Angelcots ? an exclusive white-fleshed apricot ? Star Spangled Spuds and Hatch Chile Peppers. ?These are the three items that shoppers wait all year long to get their hands on,? says Caplan.
When it comes to increasing sales of specialty produce in summer, Caplan offers this advice: ?Be consistent with what you offer, and educate your produce personnel on the importance of being ?in stock? with specialties.
?It?s tempting for produce managers to focus on mainstream items like sweet corn and watermelons during the summer months, but specialties will really make a retailer stand out,? adds Caplan. ?Attractive, informative signage also helps shoppers pick up on these items.?
First salsa outpaced ketchup as America?s No. 1 condiment, and now guacamole is giving toppings from mayo to salad dressing a run for their money.
One of the most popular categories in branded produce, packaged guac is sure to be a sought-after item this summer.
?Guacamole is becoming much more of an everyday item versus an impulse buy,? affirms Jessica Brown, Cabo Fresh sales and marketing manager, who attributes the shift to heightened consumer awareness regarding the health benefits of avocados.
?Both the guacamole category and produce department sales are growing, and both growths stem from the increased awareness of eating healthier foods, specifically fruits and vegetables,? she adds.
When it comes to the most winning merchandising strategy for guacamole, Brown suggests retailers take their cue from the hummus category.
?Guacamole is much more like hummus in that there are many different styles and flavors. I would encourage retailers to add more SKUs and selection of guacamoles,? she recommends. ?When looking at the produce value-added section as a whole, I think retailers should look at what each SKU of guacamole brings in sales and versus other dips, salsas and dressings, and eliminate redundant items and slow movers.?
Del Monte Fresh Produce, in Coral Gables, Fla., recently entered the fresh guacamole category: Its Del Monte Fresh Guac is a United Fresh 2014 New Product Award Best New Packaging finalist.
Capturing the Kid Market
With a host of new and colorful branded fruit and veggie products designed to appeal to children and their families, sales in this category are poised for continued growth.
Del Monte Fresh Produce has launched an array of new products intended for consumers on the go, including youngsters. In 2011, Parents Magazine voted the Del Monte Gold individually wrapped pineapple spear as one of the ?Top 25 Kids? Favorite Snacks,? notes Dionysios Christou, VP marketing for Del Monte Fresh Produce.
The company also offers Cut Spear Multipacks in pineapple and watermelon varieties.
Cashmere, Wash.-based Crunch Pak has its finger on the pulse of what?s compelling to kids. Its latest partnership with New York-based Marvel Entertainment, Snackers, is positioned as a mini meal replacement. Marvel Super Heroes appear on packages of Snackers fresh sliced apples with such other ingredients as grapes, cheese and pretzels.
The innovative product won a nod from United Fresh, which made it a finalist in its 2014 Best New Product Awards competition. The Snackers rigid container protects the product from bruising, while the clear film allows shoppers to see the product. The tray itself is made of 70 percent recycled water bottles, with 30 percent of the energy used to produce the trays coming from solar energy.
Also enticing kids with delicious produce-based snacks is Naturipe Farms, of Salinas, Calif., which recently introduced fresh berries featuring Disney Princesses and a themed eBook including recipes and activities for young consumers. The book is downloadable through an on-pack quick response (QR) code or at the company?s social media outlets and website.
Locally grown is a trend that continues to resonate with consumers. When the local message is combined with a strong brand identity, the impact is twofold.
?Since there is such a demand to know where food comes from ? especially produce ? branding has become an important element in the produce department,? observes Leah Brakke, director of marketing for Black Gold Farms, in Grand Forks, N.D.
?If your brand can tell the story of who grew it, where it was grown, how it was grown, and incorporates some culture and excitement into the product, consumers will pay attention to that brand. They want to understand and be involved in the farm-to-plate process,? she notes.
Black Gold recently kicked off its 2014 summer red potato harvest with programs highlighting locally grown produce. The programs correspond with Black Gold?s harvesting schedule, starting in Texas, transitioning through additional growing regions such as Georgia and the Mississippi Delta, and then heading north into Indiana and the Red River Valley.
?For branded produce, it?s all about the who, how and where it?s grown,? says Brakke. ?Tell the consumers how their food is grown, show who the farmer is, explain the growing process, educate on the different varieties and seasons, and be authentic and honest.?
Organic and Eco-friendly
According to United Fresh?s ?Facts on Retail? report, consumer demand for organic fruits and vegetables continues to climb. Organic vegetables, which accounted for 8.6 percent of total vegetables sales in 2013, increased average weekly dollar sales 18.2 percent during 2013, as well as boosting average weekly volume by 14.2 percent.
Meanwhile, organic fruits, which account for 4.4 percent of total fruit sales, increased dollar sales by 22.1 percent in 2013 compared with 2012, while volume sales rose 17.8 percent.
Melissa?s Produce, in Vernon, Calif., has met the rise in demand for organic specialty produce with new product introductions in some of the trendiest and tastiest categories.
Regarding Melissa?s new organic Baby Peeled Red Beets, Director of Public Relations Robert Scheuller says, ?There are many retailers who are very interested in offering more organic in their produce department; hence, we see incremental sales that don?t cannibalize sales of conventional peeled beets.?
Hand in hand with the continued demand for organic produce is the drive for more sustainable packaging. Another United Fresh 2014 New Product Award finalist, Kingsville, Ontario-based Mastronardi Produce, is rolling out a new packaging system called the Eco Flavor Bowl.
Made from recycled materials, the 100 percent recyclable bowl uses top seal technology to lock in the freshness of such products as Sunset Angel Sweet, Splendido, Zima and Wild Wonders tomatoes.
?It?s tempting for produce managers to focus on mainstream items like sweet corn and watermelons during the summer months, but specialties will really make a retailer stand out.?
?Karen Caplan, Frieda?s Inc.
?Branding has made the produce industry smarter. It?s made people care more about the consumer, about quality and about delighting with every bite.?
?John Toner, United Fresh Produce Association
?Since there is such a demand to know where food comes from ? especially produce ? branding has become an important element in the produce department.?
?Leah Brakke, Black Gold Farms