South Africa: produce packaging leads the way

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South Africa: produce packaging leads the way

What makes the difference between the avocado that lands on a dinner plate and the one that goes to waste on retailer shelves?

With an estimated 45,000 products available in the average grocery store, presentation is key to land in shopping carts and _MG_0169make it out the door.

This fact may be obvious to processed food producers but it is yet to penetrate the produce industry, according to Fresh Produce Marketing owner Lisa Cork.

In the game of presentation, fresh marketers are lagging behind their packaged competitors.

"Most [fresh producers] underutilize packaging to drive down costs. But what if we could use packaging to drive sales and to drive value?" she asked an audience of close to 300 people at the Produce Marketing Associations (PMA) Fresh Connections: Southern Africa event in Cape Town.

"If you’re already packaging your produce, you can create a sales opportunity at almost no additional cost. It's all about packaging optimization."

To capture sales, Cork emphasized the point of decision – the moment when shoppers compare retail products before check out.

"The shopper is in the store, ready to buy and passing by your pack. She's actually seeing your packaging at the point of decision. You cannot get any closer to the consumer than at that point," she said.

"Nothing else works for you as hard as packaging."

The success of sweet potatoes – known regionally in New Zealand as kumara – show the potential of product reinvention.

A once stagnant category, kumara underwent extensive market research to find why the staple product wasn't yielding results.

What Cork and her team discovered was a food lacking in consumer connection.

"The biggest barrier was [consumers] wanted to buy smaller, medium-sized, smoother-skinned kumara," she said.

"There was a disconnect between what growers wanted to grow and what consumers wanted to eat."

Through better consumer understanding came the shopper-friendly Love! Kumara brand with simple packaging that emphasized the ease of consumption.

The new format brought 25% value growth in easy peels and 231% value growth in gourmet.

"Part of that was a result of great packaging and part of that was that we worked very hard to understand our shoppers and what they were willing to pay more for," she said.

"That’s the essence of how effective produce packaging should work."

Kumara’s success in New Zealand reflects the similar case of small-sized tomatoes in Europe. Repackaging has taken the food from surplus to an easy snack option, explained Jacques Coetzee, the business unit manager for export at NNZ BV in the Netherlands.

"About five years ago growers in the Netherlands faced a challenge - how to sell an ever increasing crop of small tomatoes," Coetzee explained earlier in the day.

"One of the growers wanted to enter the snack food market. Why not? It is such a big market and a small percent of the market share was all he needed."

The grower proposed selling the tomatoes in popcorn shakers much like those seen in fast food restaurants.

Although he met initial esistance, the format has reached unexpected success in Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

In 2008, two million cups were sold in Benelux. In 2012, the category jumped to 70 million cups sold. The product is now _MG_0140available in Spain, Italy and Japan as well.

Coetzee attributed the product’s transformation to clever branding and interesting packaging.

"It is fun, it is cool. It makes the veggie interesting. It even tastes better," he said.

Greenco, one of the product's packagers, said, "the packaging makes the final difference … The cup keeps the tomatoes fresh and firm, is easy to re-close and ideal for snacking."

Coetzee said the product’s imaging now has Europeans snacking in a new way.

"In their mind, consumers have now taken fresh produce from the veggie section and placed it in the snack food section," he said.

As Cork suggested in her presentation, the tomato marketers began to think like processed food packagers – a mentality she said could benefit the rest of the industry.

"You have to be honestly willing to take a look at your packaging and willing to invest in changing it. The key is that you have to take two steps back when you package," she said.

"I want you to start spending time in the grocery aisles because that’s where packaging innovation is happening."





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