We often hear the call for more theatre in the fresh-produce aisles but what does that mean and how can retailers and their suppliers achieve that? Produce Business UK catches up with British Summer Fruits and the PR agency The Red Brick Road to find out how it can be done
Over four days at the end of June, thousands of shoppers at Marks & Spencer’s flagship store at Marble Arch in central London had the opportunity to pick their own strawberries from plants in store as the aroma of the fresh fruit wafted through the aisles.
The captivating Fruit Fantasia feature was the brainchild of The Red Brick Road (RBR), the PR agency appointed by UK berry industry body British Summer Fruits. BSF commissioned the agency to work with spectacular culinary installation specialist Bompas & Parr to come up with a novel way to generate media coverage at the peak of the season. The aim was to build on work BSF and RBR carried out last year with research by The Centre for the Study of the Senses at the School of Advanced Study’s Institute of Philosophy that found a strong association between the scent and taste of strawberries and positive memories.
Laurence Olins, chairman of BSF, explains: “We have been working with RBR for three years and are really happy with the work they have done for us. We expect and trust them to come up with wacky ideas and this is a wacky idea! Following on from last year’s research we thought ‘let’s see if we can’t titillate the senses some more’.”
The result is the creation of multi-sensory surroundings that are evocative of a pick-your-own strawberry field in scent, taste, sound, look and feel with shoppers encouraged to try before they buy.
Olins and the BSF board also knew that they wanted to get Bompas & Parr involved and did not look at any other stylists. “We went straight to them,” says Olins, “We presented the idea to the board at BSF in February and I think that as a board we were quite adventurous in accepting the proposal from Bompas & Parr and RBR. They showed us a few different designs to choose from and once we commissioned them, we trusted them to deliver.”
The decision on which retailer to work with came about through Olins’ regular meetings with all the major supermarkets. “I knew we needed a central London location to get the media to come and we thought that could be Selfridge’s Food Hall or the Waitrose Food Hall at John Lewis on Oxford Street,” he says. “But at one of my face-to-face meetings with Marks & Spencer, they said they would be interested and they had already worked with Bompas & Parr on other projects.”
And so the four-day installation at the Marble Arch store was put in place, as the season reached its peak from June 25-28. Olins has been very pleased with the response. “I’m delighted with the buzz we have created in the media,” he says. “We also wanted to show other retailers what can be done. We have been pleased with our investment.” In fact, RBR has calculated that the campaign has reached over 13 million people with editorial coverage appearing in the Daily Mail, Daily Mirror and Daily Telegraph.
Olins adds: “The idea is not that pick-your-own strawberries in store will ever be commercially viable; what we have done is to bring a bit of drama to what can generally be quite a sterile aisle. There’s nothing to say that in the future there won’t be a pick-your-own fixture where people can try some of the fruit as a sample before they buy a punnet of strawberries.”
Showing off technology
Of course the clever installation also serves to reinforce the notion that the soft-fruit industry in the UK is a world-leader in technology and agronomic engineering.
The plants in the fixture were completely self-sufficient, grown under lights in coir substrate with hydro pebbles and producing fruit throughout the four-day duration of the installation. Meanwhile, the vapour carrying the strawberry aroma is produced separately and was pumped around the store similar to the smell of an in-store bakery.
“Why shouldn’t we compete with the bakery?” asks Olins. This is where the importance of last year’s research comes in and the revelation that the smell of strawberries evokes strong associations of happy childhood summers.”
Andy Mitchell, M&S’s agronomist for strawberries as well as a host of other fruit lines, has duly noted the consumer reach of the PR activity: “The start of the British strawberry season is one of the highlights of the summer calendar,” he says. “It’s great to see that this very clever installation has really brought to life the many delicious qualities of our strawberries.”
All eyes now must surely be on what BSF will come up with next when its PR campaign with RBR on the rest of the range of summer fruits grown in the UK gets going next month.