Get trending with fresh produce brands

Liz O’Keefe

In the world of marketing and PR, trends or having something ‘trending’ is key. We take a look at the fruits and vegetables that have had to steal the limelight and evaluate the work behind the scenes that allowed them to do that

We’re a long way advanced from the days when pricing a box of product up and putting it on the shelf was enough to make a living. It’s so competitive out there that without an edge, that product could well pale into insignificance amongst the myriad options for the 21st century consumer.

Of course, you can send out your product and hope that celebrity chefs likes Delia, Jamie or Mary will accidently endorse it into an overnight sensation, but alas, life doesn’t often turn out like that.

We all know it’s no coincidence that Pink Lady is the most well-known apple variety globally, that Bramley is at the forefront of consumer minds in autumn, that Rooster is the potato of choice and watercress is everywhere. But it’s not a coincidence that these products have hit the big time; all have had the benefit of a significant amount of money, time and effort being thrown at them – by a collaboration of grower and marketing groups – and they have had the help of several specialist fresh produce PR agencies.

It’s difficult for any brand to achieve stand-out status on a shelf, points out Mortimer Chadwick Gray’s Kyla Flynn, but even more difficult for fresh produce.

“The way retailers deliver the point of sale (POS) is key to fruit and vegetables,” explains Flynn, who now works with the Pink Lady apple and Tenderstem brands and has worked on campaigns from Weight Watchers to Peppa Pig.

“Mushrooms have been presented to shoppers in a unique way, with retailers allowing cooking instructions and inspiration at the point of purchase. Grabbing people’s attention is key, but making your product accessible and easy to cook with is just as important.”

The money and effort put into campaigns pushing forward products like asparagus and watercress have proven priceless. The English asparagus season is now a fixed event on the foodie calendar, paving the way for different variants like purple and white gras to emerge, while watercress has become a must-have, year-round item for restaurants, cookery magazines and supermarkets.

Of course, you have start out with a good product, as well as an interesting growing story. But how long does it take and does it always work? There’s a fine balance between creating consumer demand and turning something into a commodity with a low price point.

“The trend within produce marketing is for launching ‘brands’,” says Pam Lloyd of Pam Lloyd PR, who has 15 years’ experience in fresh produce marketing. “Businesses working in a margin driven industry want to add profit through branding. However, shoppers know when they are being ‘marketed to’ and a product has to have a genuine point of difference to really make it beyond a badged product.”

Longevity has been key for the British Asparagus campaign. At the start of the drive in 2001 UK household penetration was circa 2.1%, which equates to 483,000 households, and by 2014 it had jumped to 17% or 4.2m households.

“British Asparagus has benefitted from a sustained investment in PR and promoting a coherent and consistent set of messages,” explains Pam Lloyd PR’s Dieter Lloyd. “PR has been put to work to make British asparagus more accessible. But growers and packers have been investing for the long term and growing more product. And there has been retailer support, celebrity endorsement, the growing interest in food and provenance from shoppers and food TV programmes, which have all contributed to growth.”

G’s Marketing has been pushing forward beetroot via Pam Lloyd PR, with recipe development, social media interaction and a consumer-facing website for four years. In that time G’s has seen beetroot sales increase by 20%. In 2014, the company took the same approach with celery and its Love The Crunch campaign, which featured a big Twitter push.

Social media is a must

“The global adoption of social media has radically changed the role of communications personnel,” states Pam Lloyd. “Campaigns must confidently offer social, as well as traditional print and broadcast media relations to remain relevant. All aspects of our digital work are evolving, all the time.”

Red Communications’ Dom Weaver has been involved in the fresh produce sector since 1998 and is currently working on campaigns for South African stonefruit. “We are targeting an increasing number of online publications and bloggers, and through social media we’re speaking directly to consumers themselves,” he says.

“New technologies, from simple QR codes and apps to augmented reality and mobile, are providing a huge range of tools with which to do our job. In a world where everyone is constantly on the go, many of these are designed to deliver messages in a straightforward, engaging and fun way. Infographics, selfies and memes, for instance, are now as important a communication tool as a press pack was a decade ago.”

Pam Lloyd’s future plans are to continue to adapt within the changing media landscape, especially as the watercress season approaches. “The watercress campaign has been redirected to maximise its health credentials by communicating with shoppers who are health and fitness focused,” she says. “We are working with the Watercress Alliance on social engagement and the campaign relies on a wealth of content, from short format video, professional photography, graphics and text, to recipes devised by health professionals.”

Room for broader thinking

But are there missed opportunities? Flynn believes there is scope for third-party link ups and cross category activity. “I’m not sure enough of this necessarily happens,” she says. “As ingredients, the opportunities are endless.”

Weaver agrees the fresh produce category could benefit hugely from some cross-category generic promotion, with different fresh produce brands working more closely and collaboratively on promotions and campaigns.

“In its simplest form, this could be a linked promotion,” he explains. “So shoppers buying tomatoes could be given the chance to try another salad product with lower penetration, such as Hass avocados.”

Using Waitrose’s recent introduction of weekly aisle-end featured recipes as an example, Weaver thinks there’s room for broader thinking.

“I’d also like to see more quirky media campaigns linked not just to eating quality, but also to other benefits across a number of different fruits and vegetables,” he notes. “The beauty of these collaborations is that you are rarely competing with one another, rather you are boosting sales for everyone.”

Push your own product

Ask yourself the following questions and then evaluate whether the everyday consumer knows the answers too:

  • What’s the USP of each product you sell?
  • Why is this product going to make a consumer’s life better?
  • Are there any interesting facts that might convince them to purchase more?
  • Use what already exists – who and what is affiliated with the product already?


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