The rise and rise of omnichannel retail has become the topic de-jour in the fresh produce sector – from product innovation networks through to retail marketing groups.
Whatever your perspective on the subject, we can be certain that the status quo in retail is no longer. Incumbent ‘old world’ retailers and new players alike are driving change in response to this evolution and there is no going back.
This new landscape brings with it a new grocery consumer with notably different expectations. Every day value for money, for example, is an imperative. However, some things don’t change, and experience – that is the direct engagement between the consumer and a product or brand – is as valuable, if not more so, as it has ever been.
Experience is especially important in fresh produce – not least because customers select the produce that they put into their baskets by picking it up, feeling it, turning it and smelling it. Choosing a punnet of strawberries is a multi-sensory experience – a world away from a pack of biscuits.
And here lies an opportunity for retail stores to work with producers to bring the produce fixture to life for shoppers. Through smart collaboration and using tactics and technology already in play in retail, the aisle could be transformed to become the heart and soul of the store. Retailers could be influenced by the way in which brands interact with consumers at festivals, such as The Big Feastival.
For online retail, the same experience simply cannot be replicated because online is currently very much transaction-based. As such, the fresh produce category doesn’t fare as well as others sales-wise.
However, online remains an important part of UK consumers’ shopping repertoire and the much-anticipated arrival of AmazonFresh in the UK, along with the continued growth of dedicated delivery services such as Abel and Cole and Gousto, proves that consumers are interested in buying fresh produce online.
The development and promotion of inspiring content, such as product provenance and recipes, alongside core product information, will be crucial. And with shoppers only a couple of clicks away from the product, media channels, such as social will play an increasingly important role. Social is particularly useful as it allows for real-time interaction between the customer, retailer and producer.
Experience is no less important when it comes to engaging influencers with a product or brand. Journalists, chefs, home economists, food writers and bloggers alike are bombarded daily with information on new food products and ingredients.
It is a given that no-one worth their salt will talk or blog or write about a product they haven’t tried themselves, but it is no longer enough to package up a product sample with a press release.
Product sampling is about showcasing the product or range, it’s about telling its story, demonstrating its unique attributes. A media event setting, such as the annual Christmas in July (or August) retailer events, offers serious scope, but, with a little creativity, at-desk product drops can be used to great effect, and can reach a greater potential audience.
New technology and product and packaging development will undoubtedly drive change for the shopper experience. For example, packaging designed to fit well and sell the product on the supermarket shelf is not relevant to the online shopper. Once their delivery arrives, they don’t need, or want, to be sold to. But they do want the product to look great and fit well on their shelves, or in their fridge. And they are interested in well-placed content to inspire and engage them further.
We can expect to see the pace of change ramp up in the coming years, but the opportunity exists now to put experience at the heart of fresh produce marketing.
Laura Tomlinson is a senior consultant at PamLloyd Fresh Produce PR and Marketing.