Laura Tomlinson is a senior consultant at PamLloyd Fresh Produce PR and Marketing with over a decade of experience in public relations. Here, she discusses why the cost of fresh fruit and veg is only half the battle to winning over more consumers
Fresh produce hit the headlines this week following publication of a report by a UK think-tank into the rising cost of a healthy diet. The Overseas Development Institute (ODI) study shines a spotlight on soaring fruit and vegetable prices in relation to the drop in prices of unhealthy, processed foods; arguing that it is this growing disparity that is fuelling global obesity.
The figures are pretty damning. In the UK between 1980 and 2012 the price of green vegetables has increased by 199% while the price of an ice-cream has halved. The ODI uses its findings to promote the idea of a taxation on processed foods – potentially using the cash to subsidise consumption of fruit and vegetables.
It’s an interesting one. On the face of it I don’t think it sounds a bad idea. Because, yes, there can be little doubt that price has a major bearing on our grocery shopping choices – especially in this new age of austerity and, of course, most obviously among those on low incomes. However, to solve the economic issue only solves half the problem.
Education and inspiration are critical to boosting fresh produce consumption. Because, whether we’re talking household penetration or frequency of purchase, we need to up motivation.
Around 90 new photos tagged #FoodPorn are uploaded to Instagram every minute of every day; demonstrating the extent to which food is engrained in our everyday lives. For the time-pushed or uninspired shopper, processed foods can tick a lot of boxes. Brand power gets them noticed and clever communication sparks trial and engagement. Fresh produce has to compete – often indirectly but at times directly – with grocery brands but it struggles with an image problem.
Tackling this at the fixture – in-store and online – will be a long-game. Things are moving in the right direction with more retailers using produce to attract and entice buyers, through more creative display and strategies such as online recipes and video shelf barkers. Seed companies, growers and retailers are working together to break the mould through impressive product and packaging innovation – more of this will undoubtedly help but in certain categories this can be easier said than done.
Consumer marketing is an area rich in opportunity for the produce sector. Even without the big budgets of FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) brands, a cleverly targeted and engaging campaign that both educates and inspires can have significant impact on sales over the medium to long-term.
Producers should consider what it is that their produce offers customers that other grocery products cannot. For example, the last couple of years has seen considerable growth in functional food – with product innovation and brand marketing geared towards the development and communication of specific benefits, health-related in particular. Shoppers are making decisions based on what the product says it will do for them. This trend, alongside that of an emphasis on simple and natural, should be playing straight into the hands of the produce industry – which has these credentials in its DNA.
Produce needs to tell its story with more conviction and individual crops should think about pulling together to boost impact. The media landscape is ripe for produce to get under the skin and ultimately win the hearts and minds of the consumer.