First come the innovators, then the imitators, then the idiots…

Nic Jooste

PBUK sourcing spotlight_Holland

As the head of marketing at one of Holland’s most dynamic fresh fruit and vegetable importer-distributors, Cool Fresh International, Nic Jooste is well-known for his prowess in the field of PR and promotion. In this opinion post – as part of our special Sourcing Spotlight on Holland this month – Nic issues a word of warning about replicating the very innovations that are striving to create a point of difference in the fresh produce industry

The marketing environment for fresh produce in Europe is seeing increasing differentiation. With consumers demanding more variety, greater convenience and higher food safety guarantees (not forgetting a focus on sustainability factors too), it stands to reason that today fresh produce marketing companies simply must offer a creative edge to their product lines.

Producers and fresh produce companies have responded to the rapid increase in the race for access to retail shelf space – and thus market share – by offering a broader product range, and higher quality. But, in the end, an apple remains an apple, an orange remains an orange, and a pineapple remains a pineapple.  

So how does one innovate an apple, an orange or a pineapple? Apart from the obvious answers, such as going down the convenience or juicing route, the answer is, quite simply, ‘you don’t’. The bottom line is that with innovation in terms of taste and appearance being the domain of the plant cultivation experts, the average fresh produce marketing company does not have many options to bring an innovative product onto the market.

It’s clear that creative and innovative solutions for the fresh produce marketeer (i.e. a specialist in promoting or selling a product or service) are limited to concepts relating to packaging, promotion and communication. This creates a major dilemma because a fresh produce company is not able to protect its ‘good ideas’ (being intellectual property to a certain extent) in this regard.

The result is that the fresh produce playing field is showing signs of being plundered by imitators who are unashamedly copying concepts and branding strategies that have been created by fresh produce companies which actually spend time and money on bringing something new to their client base.

Unlike patents, designs and trademarks, unfortunately a clever concept cannot be protected from an IP (intellectual property) point of view. The result is that strategically intelligent and creative fresh produce companies are painstakingly creating new concepts, only to see them copied by imitators (and often idiots) as soon as such concepts show signs of being successful.

Bearing in mind that the average fresh produce company does not possess multi-million marketing budgets, it stands to reason that such a company has almost no recourse when a concept is copied by a competitor. Unfortunately, neither ethical behaviour nor norms and values have any legal standing in an industry that is governed by the law of ‘survival of the strongest’.  

American business magnate, investor and philanthropist Warren Buffett gives a crystal-clear explanation of this. He said:

“First come the innovators, who see opportunities that others don’t. Then come the imitators, who copy what the innovators have done. And then come the idiots, whose avarice undoes the very innovations they are trying to use to get rich.”

Is there a solution to this trend, or will the fresh produce industry simply continue to allow the imitators and idiots to have a free hand? Only time will tell…



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