Fresh produce growers and shippers are getting an ever-smaller portion of the consumer’s food dollar. Meanwhile, fresh produce retailers are facing increasing challenges. From that context, the U.S.’s Perishable Pundit Jim Prevor shared his forward-looking insights on how to increase fresh produce consumption to the Fresh Connections: Australia-New Zealand
The key, he says, is sex appeal.
As stage setting Prevor reported on long-term U.S. data that an increasing share of the average food dollar is going not to the farm but to everything else – transportation, packaging, retailing, advertising, etc. The problem with that, he noted, is that the marketing side of the supply chain depends on a prosperous producer base.
To reverse that trend, consumers must perceive more value from the farm gate, Prevor said – that means getting them to increase consumption.
Why health-based efforts haven’t worked
Consumers universally now know that fresh produce is good for them and that they should eat more, Prevor noted. “The problem is that there is a disconnect between our efforts…. and people’s actions,” he said, “We don’t have good reason to believe that actual health impacts is what motivates most people.”
What might work instead? Prevor cited the U.S.-based Menus of Change Initiative, created by the Culinary Institute of America and the Harvard School of Public Health. “It is an effort to analyze why our efforts haven’t been effective, and what might be effectivework in the future,” said Prevor.
One preliminary takeaway from that project Prevor has observed is that “the real answer to how you get more people to eat more fruits and vegetables is that you have to actually raise their general educational level – and that’s way beyond the means of the produce industry itself.”
“If the answer is not a nanny state, telling people ‘you better eat your fruits and vegetables’… the obvious answer is to just make them more desirable,” said Prevor. That’s not easy, he noted. He recounted leading a discussion of chefs about how to get better-tasting products to the marketplace. They lost interest when informed it can take 10-25 years to get a new produce item to market.
If product innovation takes too long, what else? Prevor suggests switching the angle, to look at short-term ways to make produce more desirable.
Prevor also recommends using allure to make produce attractive.
“We want the industry to hit consumers in ways they are telling us actually motivate them – that’s indulgence, taste, and luxury.” He made the analogy of the auto industry’s use of red convertibles to get shoppers in the door. “They mostly buy blue sedans. But they need that red convertible – they need that sex appeal – to attract them.”
Challenges: foodservice, retail fracturing
Prevor also discussed changing dynamics in the retail sector, including the long-term trend of more food dollars going to food prepared away from home. Retailers can recapture some of that business from foodservice, he noted.
“Consumers are telling us they don’t want to cook anymore, they want someone to do [it] for them,” he said. “Whatever their reasons might be, you’ve got to be thinking about how you’re positioning yourself to ride this trend.”
He touched on consolidation, suggesting the bigger concern is fracturing. Traditional retailers face “death by a thousand cuts” from upscale, discount, supercenter, dollar store, online and other formats, even drug store chains stocking produce. How retailers respond is key, he noted. “There has been plenty of what I call ‘death by ego’… and so they get the [product] assortment wrong, and they get the price wrong,” said Prevor. “Just waiting to fill in are people like Amazon.”
Opportunity: genetics and proprietary products
Prevor pointed to genetics, specifically developing proprietary produce items, as a solution to increase consumption. “This has the potential to dramatically shift power in the world of produce from retailers to producers,” he said. Retailers also should be looking at proprietary offerings to differentiate themselves, he noted.
Such efforts must focus first and foremost on consumers, he urged. “You need compelling consumer attributes – things like flavor, or novelty.” Other keys are to limit acreage, set product quality standards, and back the product up with branding and marketing. While Prevor cautioned that a proven model hasn’t yet emerged, he sees great opportunity.
“Consumers have actually communicated to us that, if given product with exceptional flavor and unique profiles, they are willing in fact to seek that product out and pay premium prices for it,” he concluded.