Nadine Baarstad

During a recent industry conference, I met with a group of Produce marketers. Our discussion centered on, among other things, how dramatically the business of selling and marketing Produce has changed. The increase in consumer desire for fresh and “clean” eating has put Produce at the forefront of what’s hot: Restaurants are incorporating more low-calorie fruits and vegetables into their menus. Convenience stores are increasing their offerings of healthier fresh food snacks. The perimeter of the grocery store—namely fresh Produce—keeps growing. And this new “plant-based” trend? Produce is at the center of it. Produce marketers recognize the opportunity in front of them. So, what’s the best direction forward?

A Hybrid Brand Marketing Model

Historically, fresh Produce, like most farmed products, has been treated as a commodity, with marketing playing the role of sales support. Things are changing. Gone are the days of generic nondescript fruit and vegetable offerings in the grocery store. Today’s consumers want to know where their food comes from and what sets one Produce provider apart from another. Today, more than ever, when it comes to Produce—BRANDS MATTER! And creating a brand that resonates is worth investing both your time and money. That is why each Produce marketer’s role must increasingly shift from “trade marketing” to the type of smart brand marketing that builds recognition, loyalty and, ultimately, advocacy. This requires making your brand known and embraced at both the trade and consumer level.

Recently when discussing the importance of branding and creating brand advocacy, a fellow Produce marketer asked, “How can we build a strong brand when we simply don’t have the budgets and outlets of large CPG brands?”

Frankly, some of today’s most effective and breakthrough marketing efforts aren’t coming from the big CPG brands. They’re coming from smaller emerging brands with limited funds that simply find better, smarter ways to tell their stories. They are tapping into the most effective marketing model (especially for Produce): a Hybrid Model of marketing that builds off of historically strong roots as good “trade marketers” and then brings the consumer into the equation. When your brand owns a story that resonates, this is when you create perhaps one of your most powerful marketing tools—the brand advocate. Creating brand advocates, especially for Produce brands that have strong stories, is a true game changer.

The Path To Creating Brand Advocacy

Produce companies have great stories to tell. By actively communicating within both consumer and customer paths to purchase, it is possible for Produce marketers to leverage great brands. The more we are “woven into the fabric” of our customers’ business, their industry, trade influencers and consumer mindsets, the more likely it is that we will impact their buying decisions. Be where the conversation about food is occurring. Make your brand prevalent online through a frequently updated website and strong digital marketing. Get active in chef groups, industry associations, local/regional food events, retail sampling, wherever people are talking. Ultimately the goal is to create an unconditional Brand Love that is at the core of all brand advocacy. Just imagine: an army of people selling your products who are not on the payroll.

Building Brand Love Builds Brand Advocates

So what are the most important rules for creating Brand Love? It’s important to invest your efforts in accomplishing the following:

1. Create a point of differentiation.

Own a distinct value proposition that you can deliver upon and that your competitors can’t claim. This is especially imperative in marketing Produce, where parity can easily be broken with an ownable, resonant story.

2. Present your brand as transparent and authentic.

Consumers/customers want and deserve the truth. Brands that provide authenticity and are relevant will be rewarded with brand advocacy.

3. Understand your consumers/customers to make lasting connections.

Study trends, sales feedback and online forums to understand your customers’ relationships with your brand. And what messaging resonates most strongly with them. Then develop messaging that gives answers and solutions and keeps the conversation going!

4. Leverage the power of digital marketing.

Digital marketing is your new (and affordable) front door into consumer buying habits. Generate social success by driving people to your brand with strong SEO and SEM. Create ways to interact, capture data and tell your story effectively.

5. Develop more integrated marketing action plans.

With limited dollars, it’s more important than ever to speak with one voice, regardless of where you are being seen.

6. Reach shoppers where and when they’re making decisions.

From sampling, to experiential marketing, to digital, to social media, leave no stone unturned in your consideration set. It’s all interconnected.

Marketing Produce continues to evolve. Those who keep up with changes in technologies and customer/consumer mindsets and demands put themselves in a better position to succeed. And thrive. What an exciting time to truly impact the growth of these emerging brands and build Brand Love.