California-based table grape grower-marketer Sun World will start publishing annual reports on its sustainability program as part of a new brand promise announced today - "Better Farms. Better Flavor.”
The launch coincides with the lead-up to Earth Day 2017 on April 22, and is the result of extensive consumer research into what drives consumers' grape purchases.
"Historically a lot of grape marketing has been retailer focused and not a lot of companies have really tried to go after the consumer. So we've decided to go to the consumer directly," Sun World CEO Merrill Dibble told Fresh Fruit Portal.
"We did a lot of shop-alongs and focus groups, and we learned it’s pretty simple what they want; they don’t take a lot of time in the grape section, just a few seconds to make a decision.
"They want to know that the grapes they buy are going to have great flavor, they want to know that they have consistent quality, and they want to know that they’re raised and grown in a sustainable way that cares for both the land and the people who work on the farms."
From this information the team at Sun World developed a "handful of brand promises", and Dibble said the one that resonated most with consumers and explained what the company did was "Better Farms. Better Flavor."
"It brings to mind sustainability, taking care of water, land and people, and the better flavor," he said.
Proving green credentials
Sustainability marketing is a tricky practice, not least because consumers have been inundated with green messaging to the point where they want more evidence, more examples of environmentally-friendly actions before buying in to a brand.
This was the key point made at a seminar on marketing to Generation Z during the Amsterdam Produce Show last year. The main message - "practice what you preach".
When asked about this trend, Dibble covered a wide range of areas where Sun World is playing its part for environmental protection, including irrigation practices, promoting bee populations, plans for solar energy on its vineyards and even developing more disease-resistant varieties that require fewer chemical inputs.
"A lot of people are concerned about water and the amount of water used in agriculture, so we’ve made a commitment to having 100% of our vineyards irrigated with micro-drip irrigation. And we are there now," Dibble said.
"So there is no flood irrigation that releases large amounts out into the vineyard to let it go, where some of it runs off and some soaks in.
"We're in the permitting process to have enough solar to power 2,000 acres worth of vineyards, with all the irrigation infrastructure that those vineyards use."
He said the group was "oversizing" the solar project slightly to get additional power to sell to the grid, and the revenues gained will be used in employee empowerment and development programs.
He said the company was also building more water percolation ponds on more than 200 acres.
"We put excess water in during times of year when there’s more water than we need for irrigation, and that water helps to recharge the groundwater in the areas in which we farm," he said.
"That's beneficial for us, our neighbors and the communities that surround us, so that’s another effort to help manage the precious resource we rely on so heavily.
"This year we’ve planted some forage in between the rows that’s bee-friendly so that we can try to help with the effort here in California to increase the bee population," he said.
He added Sun World was also always working on reducing greenhouse gases through efficient equipment, making fewer trips and in other ways.
"Currently we’re focused on our own vineyards here in California and making sure that we establish the program here successfully," he said.
"A lot of our growers around the world are already doing these things from an irrigation and solar standpoint, and worker programs, but right now I’m speaking specifically about Sun World’s own vineyards in California."
Sun World program marketing manager Natalie Erlendson added many partner growers had programs that fit within the new brand promise, so there was alignment, but how it would expand overseas was still being assessed.
The company will share the brand promise through a series of events throughout the year including the recent rollout of a newly branded website, new packaging designs, a Family Farm Earth Day Celebration for employees and families, and the formal launch of the Sun World Sustainability Program & Annual Report.
The sustainability program will benchmark and set target goals for sustainability activities, many of which are already being implemented by Sun World, such as solar-powered vineyards, water reclamation, bee forages and farm worker safety & empowerment programs.