Carrying out its own consumer research to take to buyers and potential new customers is giving prepared produce and chilled foods specialist Freshtime UK an edge in the marketplace, says Mark Newton, its managing director
Being in tune with what consumers want in the fast-moving marketplace of convenient prepared produce and chilled goods has become the cornerstone of Boston-based Freshtime UK’s business.
“We have worked very hard at understanding different consumers,” says Newton. “For example, shoppers in a multiple’s convenience store (c-store) format are quite different from shoppers at that multiple’s supermarket stores.”
Freshtime UK’s research has helped it identify two major areas of growth that it can benefit from. “The first is in food-to-go generally, such as salads with forks,” says Newton. “We are seeing good uptake for lunchtime salads. A lot of our salads are leaf-based, but we also do salads plus protein, as well as snack salads. We are seeing growth in forecourt and service station sales as well as the multiples’ c-store formats and the symbol groups.
“The second is in convenience-specific formats, particularly on prepared vegetables. For many years, the multiples’ c-stores would just get a pared down range of the offer in the supermarkets’ main stores. But those consumers that use the c-store formats are often smaller households so the offer needs to reflect that. Our research goes right to the consumer and works back from there.”
Freshtime UK found that c-store shoppers don’t want large packs, rather they prefer something they can eat straight away. “They are not on the same mission as consumers at a main store; they want convenience in all its aspects,” says Newton.
C-store consumers are not interested in the weight per se but just want to know that the salad will fill the plate and their stomachs. “What they are saying to us is things like they don’t want any extra on promotion,” says Newton. “Some tell us they end up finishing their salad on the train on the way home, or that they don’t want to feel guilty about throwing some away. What is important is that it fills the plate without any leftovers. We taste our products, but we rarely eat a whole pot and consumers were telling us they didn’t finish some of the packs.”
Newton and his team have taken this on board and they are tailoring Freshtime-branded and own-label products accordingly.
Freshtime has also found that consumers are buying these products for different reasons and that whereas one consumer might want a lighter lunch before going to the gym, another wants a belly-buster of a pasta salad to keep them going in their very physical job. “There are a mind-boggling number of permutations. But this is what we do well at Freshtime – we look hard at consumers and work backwards from there in developing our products,” says Newton.
Unique buyer proposition
What perhaps creates a strong proposition for buyers is that unlike some other suppliers of prepared produce, Freshtime UK is not a grower in its own right. “It is not as though we have x-amount of hectares of carrots to push. We can have a much more tailored offer and I believe that is what sets us apart from other companies that have been more production driven or growers that are vertically integrated.”
Having this consumer insight is a valuable tool indeed when it comes to dealing with existing customers who may not have picked up all the finer points shown by Freshtime’s consumer insight from their own loyalty card data.
“All a retailer can know is that consumers are picking up those products, but they won’t know why,” says Newton. “It might be because that was all there was when they visited or it’s because it’s what they always buy, but we can find out so much more with our research.”
Freshtime UK was a gold sponsor of the London Produce Show and Conference 2015, which ran from June 3-5, and also sponsored the inaugural show last year. “I really like the format [of the show] – it is not about showing how big and expensive your stand is,” says Newton. “We sponsored last year too and were surprised by how beneficial it was…we see it as an opportunity to network.”