With regards to its UK supply offer, the ‘persimon’ is the current, and perhaps unexpected hero, of the Spanish fresh produce industry, considering its sales hit a new all-time high last season thanks to the continual thumbs-up from both UK retailers and consumers
A decade ago, denomination of origin (DO)-certified Spanish persimon (spelt with a single ‘m’ to differentiate the Ribera del Xúquer, Valencia-grown fruit from generic ‘persimmon’) were selling a steady few thousand pieces in the UK, with listings confined to wholesale and street markets and one or two of the smaller supermarket chains. Fast-forward to the present day, however, and sales of this bright orange exotic fruit have rocketed past the 20-million fruit mark.
Over the last decade, the persimon has gone from being a relatively unknown exotic fruit to one that most major UK supermarkets and many shoppers look forward to every year. According to retail buyers, when it’s available on shelves from mid-October to early February, it now regularly outsells ‘mainstream’ exotics, such as mangoes and kiwifruit.
The UK’s appetite for the persimon was awakened by a promotional push launched by Foods from Spain to raise awareness of the fruit. The campaign has run since 2005, designed and managed by RED Communications, with active input from UK importers Fesa and IPL, and UK retailers themselves.
The initiative set out to be inclusive; rallying suppliers, retailers, journalists and bloggers from the outset. In supermarkets, it has focused on introducing the Spanish persimon to as many new shoppers as possible – highlighting the fruit at the point of sale with labels on packs that contain information about the provenance and season and how to eat persimon; in addition to sampling to give customers the opportunity to taste the fruit in store before purchasing; and also now via online promotions that target, for example, shoppers who are searching for exotic fresh produce when doing their internet shopping.
The retailers have contributed to the momentum; running their own price promotions and prominent displays of Spanish persimon and point-of-sale materials while the campaign has been active. They have also worked with suppliers to develop attractive, more convenient packs. The fruit was originally just available loose, while now shoppers have access to it in two-packs, four-packs and the most popular three-pack format.
In the 2015/16 season that has just finished, Foods from Spain-funded activity included point-of-sale material in stores and an increasing amount of online promotion for Spanish persimon. That included Halloween-themed ‘Perilous Persimon’ packs and shopper sampling in Asda outlets; in-store, point-of-sale material and drop-down recipe banners for persimon at Morrisons; and educational labels on packs in Tesco stores.
Outside of the retailers, support has been provided thanks to the @SpanishPersimon Twitter account in conjunction with Facebook social media activity, and communications with consumer press and bloggers. Foods from Spain has sent sample boxes of Spanish persimon to UK bloggers and journalists, and it launched a competition for bloggers to show what they could do with the fruit, which attracted many different ideas, including a duck and persimon curry by Danny Kingston (@FoodUrchin).
Education of UK school children has also been a theme of the campaign for several years. Foods from Spain has invited kids, their parents and teachers to find out about the origin and characteristics of DO-protected Spanish persimon. This year, it worked with Natasha Gavin, who runs I Know Why It’s Yum Mum!, an ongoing educational roadshow that aims to get children eating healthily. Meanwhile, educational magazines ran a competition for schools to win one of ten workshops with Natasha, all of which incorporated Spanish persimon.
Other PR activity has included a survey of UK consumers to discover their attitudes to trying new foods, including comments from food historian and broadcaster Dr Polly Russell, and sending simple serving suggestions for Spanish persimon for use by consumer print and online magazines.
Although this season’s sales were approximately the same as last year’s record-breaking total, the season finished a full month earlier than usual; so most supermarkets had finished by early January rather than early February. The size of this year’s fruit was also up significantly, which reduced volumes. If sizes and the length of this season had been closer to the norm the total Spanish persimon sold in the UK would have risen significantly once again.
New persimon products
It’s now not just the UK retailers that get excited about Spanish persimon. This year we have seen the fruit appearing as a tea flavour, included in organic box schemes, on the menus of top restaurants – it was spotted in a dish this January at London’s sought-after Modern European restaurant Dabbous – and even in ‘Grow your own persimon’ features in the national press.
After 11 years, the campaign to promote DO-protected Spanish persimon in the UK market has achieved roll-out to most of the major retailers, and turned a little-known exotic fruit into something much more mainstream, which still has a distinct season around which we can create excitement. It poses the question: what else can we achieve with lesser-known varieties of Spanish fresh produce?
Read other articles from our Sourcing Spotlight on Spain: