Consumers who feel they're supporting family farms will buy more produce.
Regardless of where you live, the message to "buy local" is pervasive. We are inundated with messages that local is the best way to go. This is nowhere more apparent than in the produce aisle.
Before the economic meltdown of 2008, everyone was looking for the latest exotic variety or organically grown versions of their favorite produce. With less discretionary income, consumers turned to the local movement as a way to satisfy their need to support others in their sphere of influence. According to U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends, consumers want to support the local economy, but they are more interested in the freshness of their produce. Further, 44 percent of "local" shoppers now look at state lines when defining what local means to them, according to the study.
Therefore, our challenge as an industry is to deliver to consumers that "fresh experience" — no matter where they are.
But the above trends, compared with the previous standard of using a mileage radius, actually bode quite well for specific produce industry players where certain commodities hail from well-known locales: Idaho potatoes, Northwest pears, Washington state apples and California's Salad Bowl, to name a few.
"In the apple industry, it has long been understood that local deals in the Midwest and Northeast help prime the pump for sales of Washington state apples as those local deals run out of supply," says Howard Nager, VP of marketing at Yakima-based Domex Superfresh Growers. "Consumers are aware that local produce is not available year-round and are willing to accept this reality," continues Nager, noting that Americans have grown accustomed to having most items in the produce department available 365 days a year. "This expectation has led to the continued willingness of consumers to purchase items from around the country, or even from around the globe, for large portions of the year, with very few qualms."
To that end, Nager says Superfresh Growers created a series of bulk bins and merchandising displays that deliver the look and feel of a locally sourced product, to help build incremental sales of up to 27 percent when used as secondary or waterfall displays.
Thus, the task we face as an industry is finding the best way to tell our story. Whether the vehicle is ironman stand posters with grower stories or scanned QR codes that lead to a YouTube video, it's important that consumers feel as though they're supporting a "family" farm, even if it isn't in their back yards. Transparency will net both trust and sales. The story must also talk about freshness and food safety but, perhaps most importantly, it must include real people telling that story.
Technology that helps us talk to consumers has never been more abundant or easy to use. Resist the tendency to make things too "slick," as that may actually work against the message of farms being owned and operated by people who are passionate about what they do, about their operations' impact on resources, and, most of all, safe, healthy food. That needs to be our story going forward: celebrating growers who do what they do best, in the best "locales" to do it. It's time to celebrate our locales and their benefits to the consumer of increased efficiencies and resources, and families kept safe and healthy by eating food grown by people who are passionate about produce.
Loren Queen is marketing and communications manager of Yakima, Wash.-based Domex Superfresh Growers.