Resurgent beetroot hits a purple patch

Laura Tomlinson
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Laura Tomlinson is a senior consultant at PamLloyd Fresh Produce PR and Marketing and benefits from more than a decade of experience in public relations. In this post, she explores the real potential for undervalued or misunderstood fruits and vegetables to transform their image, change consumer perception and prosper across multiple market segments

Not so long ago, beetroot was about as far from cool as it was possible to be. The unfortunate fall-out of the post-war generation’s overuse of the crinkle-cut, pickled stuff, shoved between slices of inevitably soggy white bread, was that it had over time been dropped from the modern shopping list.

But that was then. Cut to 2015 and beetroot is enjoying something of a ‘purple patch’. Recent years have seen a steady rise in sales and figures released recently by Kantar Worldpanel highlight that fresh beetroot sales are about to hit £1 million a week – up from an annual figure of £30m in 2005.

And now the popularity of the crop with health-conscious consumers is sparking the development of a whole host of beetroot products. From juices and soups to relishes and crisps, beetroot has broken out of the fresh produce aisles and is popping up on fixtures all over the place.

So, what has driven this turnaround? First, and perhaps foremost, the crop has benefitted from a growing body of university research into its health properties – the result of which is evidence of its positive impact in areas such as stamina, muscle recovery and blood pressure.

Producers and brands, such as G’s Fresh and Soupologie have leveraged this to great effect and have done a savvy job of further driving beetroot’s market potential by investing in product development – establishing beetroot as a convenient health food.

Our campaign ‘So you think you know beetroot…?’ – alongside those of others with a stake in beetroot – has played a key role in gaining shoppers’ attention, interest and reappraisal. The initial strategy was to directly challenge outdated preconceptions of the crop and to educate shoppers about its attributes as a healthy, versatile and tasty ingredient.

A dedicated website provided media and consumers with an online base for information relating to health and recipes. We created fresh and relevant content that put beetroot centre-stage and got mainstream, food and health media and bloggers talking about it.

As our campaign gathered pace and beetroot started getting attention – from an average of two media mentions of beetroot a month in 2009 to two mentions a day five years later – we took to social media to engage with and encourage the growing army of beetroot fans. At the same time, we ensured that we continued to feed the media’s appetite for all-things beetroot by continuing to release new content.

Over the years, the campaign has been elevated through the fostering of relationships with celebrity beetroot fans – an effective way to bolster beetroot’s mainstream consumer profile and without the price tag that can come with recruiting named ambassadors to front a campaign.

What’s next for beetroot then? There is every indication that the popularity of beetroot is a trend that is here to stay. There is more market opportunity for beetroot – especially, in my view, in added-value and convenience lines and amongst younger shoppers. Upcoming research will only further cement its ‘superfood’ status.

So, can this success story be translated to other commoditised produce?

The promotion of high volume, low margin produce in the fresh category is not without its challenges. However, there is a real opportunity for more crops, especially those that are too-often undervalued or misunderstood to give their image a makeover and get onto more shopping lists. This requires a long-term strategy with a solid, implementable campaign across multiple platforms.

As the beetroot campaign demonstrates, attitudes are difficult to break, but it’s not impossible.

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