By Victoria Kertz, California Business Journal.
Whether you’re a farmer or a fresh produce customer, it is widely known that most fruits are simply not available from the same farm every month of the year.
So how does your local grocery store offer fresh berries year-round and never miss a day of sales?
While Northern U.S. blueberry farms may be covered in snow, blueberries are at their peak in Peru. Similar seasonal differences apply to raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, avocados and more – all produce grown by Salinas-based Naturipe Farms and its family-owned farms.
From Chile to California, Naturipe growers have one goal: to provide shoppers with quality produce year-round. With over 100 years in business, Naturipe has mastered seasonality scheduling to meet this goal and become a leading produce company. But in a competitive market with changing shopper demographics, how does Naturipe stand out and ensure customers hear their story?
The company has faced this challenge head-on. Naturipe recently conducted a 5-phase consumer research study of nearly 4,000 participants in the U.S. and Canada to gain insight into the minds of its customers. The research involved soliciting feedback and consumer reactions on packaging, product architecture, brand perception, consumer shopping triggers and motivations while in stores, and tested a handful concepts until the fruits of its labor (pun intended) yielded the results they required. The result was a new logo, packaging, in-store merchandising, and the company’s first-ever tagline, “Farmed Fresh Since 1917™.”
“Consumers saw in us things we didn’t see, which was exciting,” says Naturipe Vice President CarrieAnn Arias.
It turned out that customers responded well to the story of small farms united under one brand to meet seasonal demands and guarantee freshness and quality.
Arias says that the challenge was appealing to younger consumers, specifically the Millennial and Generation Z demographic, who are more brand-focused and therefore more brand loyal, but they also shop differently.
“They have no problem going to a multitude of places to get what they want,” Arias says, and marketing to them is an entirely new mindset in the produce industry.
Targeting these younger shoppers and their families meant more than just pretty labeling or eco-friendly packaging (although that certainly doesn’t hurt).
“What they’re looking for is a way to connect and that connection is their driving force. Brands that they identify with are brands they’re loyal to, and our rebranding initiative allows us to better communicate who we are and what we value to the largest demographic of shoppers,” Arias says.
Consider other brands that have successfully changed their messaging for younger generations. Both Dr. Pepper and Frito-Lay changed their messaging, but also experimented with new flavors and identifiable ingredients to appeal to new audiences. New flavors or products, says Arias, are an example of new voices being heard within a company.
“Produce is a little different. Farmers are looking for new ways to grow, and we’re helping people understand what it takes to grow a strawberry and get it into customers’ shopping carts,” she says, yet buyers have resoundingly responded to Naturipe’s story of collective passion.
“Naturipe farmers came together to promise 365 days a year for fresh berries. Regardless of the size of their farm or where they grow, it’s all about delivering the freshest produce to consumers. It takes a lot of different climates to deliver on that and collectively, Naturipe farmers are stronger together,” Arias says.
Innovation is equally important to share in customer-facing materials. “Innovation is the focus in every component of our business. How are we going to be fresher, safer and faster? It’s ingrained in the Naturipe organization. It’s about how we’re innovating right now and what we can be doing six years from now.”
For example, Naturipe has partnered with SAP, a global leader in business software, to integrate blockchain technology and help Naturipe farmers improve freshness and transparency and resolve food safety issues.
Naturipe doesn’t stop there. That initial draw or call to action requires follow-up. Arias says recipes have been one of the strongest drivers to online clicks, social media likes and in-store sales.
“Everyone knows that berries are healthy,” she says, so Naturipe’s recipes sometimes put berries into desserts. “It plays with indulgence and we deliver it in a way that people want to hear it. We focus on balance.”
Naturipe is also partnering with different organizations that have a strong connection to health and nutrition. “Our retailers are often looking for content and they’re coming to us as the expert in berries,” Arias says, adding that Naturipe provides cross-promotional support like photos and recipes for stores because the sales ultimately happen there.
“We see social media as multi-faceted as a brand, because at the end of every path, you still have to get it into the basket and into bellies. You have to provide that last piece of the path to purchase.”
Reintroducing yourself as a brand, especially after 100 years on the market, is a colossal enterprise, Arias admits. “We received a tremendous amount of positive feedback from retailers. A lot of produce industry leaders have reached out and been very complimentary as well, so that has been exciting,” she says.
Naturipe is, of course, already working toward more innovation and clever sustainable changes for the future. Rebranding to generations raised in a digital age and ensuring their opinions are being heard is a constant challenge, Arias says, and like so many things in life, “You only get one shot.”
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