Fresh Summit call for fruit 'decommoditization'

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Fresh Summit call for fruit 'decommoditization'

The Produce Marketing Association (PMA) has called on the horticultural industry to take steps towards the 'decommoditization' of its products, through focus on flavor, adding value and tapping in to social media.

PMA president Bryan Silbermann told attendees at the PMA Fresh Summit in Atlanta that despite the economic challenges facing consumers, there was still great potential to attract them in new ways.

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"Let’s not believe our own preconceived notion about fresh foods only appealing to the more affluent and educated consumers - it ain't necessarily so," he said.

"What is so, is that marketers and retailers have to listen to the needs of their consumers and engage them in defining what the offering is for those demographic groups.

"I dislike the word 'commodity' almost as much as I dislike the title 'VP of Perishables'. Why have we accepted the commodity fate that was handed to us without question? A commodity classification says we are not unique, we have no story."

Silbermann highlighted the difficulties in improving premiums on fruit and vegetables, based on statistics that show U.S. consumers have reduced their shopping trips to 1.69 visits per week, which is the lowest number in 62 years.

"Consumer food shafting continues to reflect the uncertainty that’s swirling around us. Consider that supermarket profitability has now reached new lows as the trend towards bargain shopping continues," he said.

"Yet the search for authenticity continues as things like health and wellness, locally grown, fresh, sustainable, continue to influence purchases.

"The sales of products that are listed as super foods has increased substantially, so could it be that better marketing is the missing link that we need? We have to start asking ourselves some smarter questions and find the right answers now."

He said surveys show fruit and vegetable consumption has risen 15% since 2007, fruit menu mentions have jumped by more than 30% and fruit mentions on kids' meals  have risen 77%. But this is still not enough.

"Is our focus on price influencing consumer perception of value? Are we creating a low price future when many consumers want something more than this? Suspend your disbelief for just a minute. Can a strategy of providing flavor and unique value overcome consumer price sensitivity and increase consumption?

"Decommoditization starts by responding to consumer trends; its focus is on value versus price, on flavor versus first of the season regardless of taste."

Silbermann pointed to several examples where companies have thought outside the box in delivering their healthy products to consumers, such as Ocean Mist Farms' microwaveable bags of artichokes and Naturipe's Berry Quick Snacks. He also urged retailers and businesses to take note of new trends in the way food is getting to consumers.

"Other assumptions about the farm supply chain are being turned upside down. Who would have thought about operating convenience stores inside recycled shipping containers located in a parking lot, or a school bus that’s been converted into a movable fresh food store touring around inner city neighborhoods?

"How about the rooftops of warehouses in major cities to locate cutting edge green houses growing high value vegetables? And you want to to talk about bringing the farm right to the supermarket, growing the veggies on the roof - far-fetched a couple of years ago, but as of this week to become a reality.

"New opportunities are being created every day across the supply chain; are you waiting for them to find you? It’s time to reach out, to explore, and there’s no better place to start than with the consumer. Despite the constant challenges of being so dependent on mother nature, and constant  changes in consumer trends, the stars are lining up."

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