Did They Get the Message?

Consumer research reveals produce buying trends
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If you are like most produce managers, you are always looking for ways to make the best use of your marketing efforts and increase your daily sales. That success depends on whether you are marketing to the right people and sending the right message that will pique your customers’ interest.

How do you know if the message is hitting its target? According to The Packer newspaper and the latest Fresh Trends Consumer research conducted by Vance Publishing, folks are paying attention to nutritional messages and are acting on them. Yes, people are eating more fresh produce. Four in ten people changed their consumption of fresh fruits and veggies, and of those nine in ten increased consumption, added new items, or both.

What are they eating?


Among consumers who said they ate more produce in the last 12 months, the list of what they ate is pretty much what you would imagine, with bananas and apples tied at the top, then followed in order by carrots, bagged salads, broccoli, tomatoes, grapes cucumbers, strawberries, and celery.

But when folks were asked what they bought after hearing reports or reading information about the healthfulness of produce, the list and order changed quite a bit: Broccoli holds the top spot, followed in order by tomatoes, garlic*, carrots, spinach, blueberries*, strawberries, cabbage*, onions*, bell peppers*, sweet potatoes*, celery, and asparagus*.

Garlic? Cabbage? Wow, those messages must really work. How much more are they eating? Of those folks who increased their consumption: 88 percent ate more or ate new varieties; 73 percent just ate more; 52 percent added new produce items to their diet.

Why are they doing it? Unfortunately, the main reason isn’t because they think it tastes so good. Respondents said the three main reasons they were eating more produce were to: reduce calories, lower cholesterol, and follow diets. It’s no surprise to find out that the biggest change in produce consumption came from those on a low-carb diet. They reported seeing something nearly every week in the newspaper or on the news about the health benefits of produce or about the latest findings on obesity, reports which have moved them to change their produce consumption. Given this increase in consumption it would be wise to know to whom you should be marketing. Knowing the demographics of your customer base is essential in deciding which items to focus on.

Who’s buying and what’s selling?


The report has some very interesting findings. For instance, of African Americans who increased produce consumption for health reasons, 24 percent ate more broccoli as contrasted with 17 percent by others. African-Americans also ate more tomatoes: 19 percent compared to 15 percent for whites and 14 percent for Hispanics. And garlic consumption was up 20 percent in this group compared to the average of 13 percent by the others.

People 59 or older ate more blueberries. Folks with a college degree added more blueberries but less broccoli, tomatoes, and garlic to their diet than those with only a high school diploma.
Households with kids were more likely to increase their produce consumption than those without. Increases were reported by 86 percent of households with kids under 6 and by 80 percent of households with kids 6 to 17.

Households with income between $20,000 and $30,000 were more likely to add new produce items to their diet than other income groups. Households making less than $20,000 or over $85,000 were more likely to add broccoli to their diet than other income groups.

Organic consumers were more likely to eat garlic, spinach, and blueberries for health reasons than nonorganic consumers.
When asked what they thought was most helpful on the retail end, many folks said they would like to see more coupons for produce. Convenience plays another big part in the mixture: they like easy to use items and recipes to go with it. They want information and they want it at the point of purchase. That doesn’t seem like too much to ask for, does it?

Where do you begin?


First, take a look at your customer base. Is it who you think it is? Check in with your crew; are they noticing changes in who’s shopping and when? When was the last time you sat down and talked about the changes in your community and the new growth base for your co-op? As you may well know, the organic consumer is changing, with more mainstream customers fueling the growth.

Next look at you product mix to see if you are serving your base. Do you carry broccoli crowns? More than one variety of garlic? A different size of blueberry container when they are in season? Have you reviewed your package salad selection? Are you offering the selection your customers want? If they didn’t buy the six-ounce Caesar mix in a bag, that doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t like it in a clamshell—because of the convenience factor, they just might.

Second, market yourself. Does the community consider your store as the place to buy produce? If not, why? Price? Try carrying more economical staples. Quality? Make sure your crew maintains consistent quality standards on the stand and during receiving. Do customers know you carry better quality than your competitors? Provide samples during busy hours so they can taste the difference. The survey revealed that we are a snacking society, and samples show folks how easy it is to snack on something healthy instead of less healthy alternatives. They also like their information at the point of purchase. So, having information near the product and with the samples can have a positive effect on their health and your bottom line. Make sure you have recipes on how to the use the product nearby as well.

Keep it simple. Targeted messages work best. While people enjoy reading newsletter articles at home, they like it short and sweet at the store. Whether you are telling them about the antioxidant properties of blueberries or the lycopene in tomatoes, a few sentences or a short paragraph work best. This is true with information about organic versus conventional farming, storage tips, and recipes. Also remember that a customer may have to see a message eight or ten times before the message gets across, so be patient when putting your information out and be willing to leave it up a while.

Some folks retain what they hear more than what they read, so it’s good to have your crew read and know this info as well, so they can offer bits of information during the shopping experience.

If customers are eating more produce without your doing many of these things, just think of what can happen when you start providing information in your department. There’s only one way to find out!

Where to find information on produce


Washington State Apple Commission
California Strawberry Commission
United States Potato Board
Blueberry Council (USHBC)
World carrot museum
Seasonal produce information: fieldtoplate.com

A good general list of sites can be found at: www.btproduce.com

*** Mark Mulcahy is an organic produce educator, now working at New Leaf Community Market in Santa Cruz, California ([email protected]).

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