Lauren M. Scott is chief marketing officer at Produce Marketing Association, a global trade association representing companies across the fresh produce and floral industries. Scott has more than 20 years of experience in the consumer products industry, including work at PepsiCo and Diageo. Demand creation will be a central theme at PMA’s Fresh Summit Convention & Expo in October.
Marketing fresh fruits and vegetables has never been more exciting… and complicated.
Consumers increasingly seek health, flavor and beauty in their lives, and colorful, delicious fruits and vegetables deliver that every day, everywhere. Fresh fruits and vegetables are grown — and consumed — all over the world. They’re vast in variety and dense in nutrition. And they offer sensory delights that are a joy in and of themselves. Just peek online: With its beauty and versatility, fresh produce is an Instagram darling.
But here’s the catch. While eating fruits and vegetables is the single, simplest thing anybody — no matter where they live or what their socio-economic status — can do to help ensure a full and vibrant life, people the world over aren’t eating enough to meet their basic nutritional and health needs. Consumers know that eating fruits and vegetables has undeniable nutrition and health benefits, yet actually getting them to change their behavior and eat more has been astonishingly difficult.
However, there is rapid change afoot. At a time when the world’s population is growing by nearly one billion people every decade, fruits and vegetables are uniquely suited both to sustain a hungry world and nourish a world hungry for a life of vitality. The fresh produce industry stands today on the doorstep of a tremendous opportunity — and responsibility — to drive a healthier world for consumers and society in general, and of course for our own businesses.
Bringing about such change calls for a savvy, holistic approach to marketing — one that employs traditional tactics alongside modern strategies for tapping into today’s cultural influences and the many ways that people think about and interact with their food. Since “marketing” in our industry has often meant making the sale and getting product to market, Produce Marketing Association (PMA) refers to this new integrated approach as “demand creation” instead. We’re also calling for an industry-wide focus on it.
Half of the plate, half of the conversations
You might be wondering why something so good, so abundant and so satisfying as fruits and vegetables needs modern marketing. While there are instances where fresh produce is not available or accessible, PMA research shows that many people have access to fresh produce and know its benefits but are not inclined to eat more of it. The future of fresh fruits and vegetables must be a future that compels people to think about produce more often and more broadly beyond its medicinal qualities alone. We have great examples of produce companies and brands across the industry and around the world helping people see fresh produce’s bigger picture, and I predict this trend will increase.
What this tells us is that playing the health card alone misses more opportunities to fulfill consumers’ food needs. Produce brands and companies must also be on-trend and ensure the benefits and best interests of our industry are known and championed to leaders, influencers and consumers who impact our industry. That requires listening to and being part of today’s cultural conversations. That also requires we bring the world to our industry, and take our industry out into the world to demonstrate our relevance. After all, if federal nutrition guidance calls for fruits and vegetables to make up “half of the plate,” then we should be at least half of the conversations where food and food culture are discussed.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are healthy and will always be healthy — this is our industry’s competitive advantage. But it’s also our industry’s complicated marketing challenge. Beyond being a tool for good health, fruits and vegetables play a complex role in human life, including important connections to culture and social contexts, identity and emotions. While it’s certainly important to continue educating the public on nutrition and promote healthy eating, we must also demonstrate that our products deliver more than just needs — they deliver wants and aspirations, as well.
Like all food sectors, engaging consumers these days requires constant attention across multiple platforms. Globalization makes the world smaller while consumer segmentation makes it larger. Today’s marketplace of multiple generations of smart consumers — including the rising Gen Z — further make marketers’ jobs more complex. On top of all that, advances in technology constantly change how we communicate.
This “bigger-faster-everything-customized” environment we’re currently in drives the produce industry to take a bigger view of marketing beyond our traditional focus on sales. We know cutting through this clutter requires us to work harder to help people fully embrace all that fresh produce has to offer.
What makes produce marketing so exciting today is that the time is ripe (pun intended!) to do just that. Now more than ever, consumers want the stories behind their food, the provenance and purpose in their products. And we have amazing stories to tell! Stories about the joy of good taste, about new and exciting ways to serve produce at home, about who’s doing delicious things with fresh produce in foodservice or in foodie circles. Stories of innovation in the grocery produce aisle. Stories of family growers big and small, the warmth of our industry, abating hunger while giving hope and offering dynamic careers.
Produce is an important source of vital nutrition for all human beings, and we stand proudly on the foundational truth that we are supposed to be half the plate. Now, our industry is on a mission to make that half exciting, tasty and vibrant.