The Packaging Pitch: Are online produce sales good or bad for your brand?

February 05 , 2018

By Fresh Produce Marketing founder Lisa Cork

With the recent Amazon/Whole Foods acquisition dominating industry news, it’s hard not to get caught up in the headlines and hypotheses about online produce sales. I sense there is excitement about the potential…but deep diving into current online produce selling makes me ask the question: Is online produce sales good or bad for your brand? Surprisingly, the answer depends on which country you analyze.

Having worked for the last three years with leading online retailers in China, in this month’s column I compare and contrast the online environment from the perspective of a brand strategist who works with produce companies on successful brand development.

My evaluation strategy was this: I evaluated only two companies: USA’s Amazon Fresh (28 January 2018) and China’s Fruitday.com (3 February 2018). To keep the comparison simple, I evaluated only one product – Green kiwifruit. I have used screenshots as graphics so you can compare and contrast my findings. 

In my opinion, AmazonFresh.com is not great for ‘produce branding’. Let me explain why. 

On Amazonfresh.com, kiwifruit on the home page photo did not feature a brand or a branded PLU sticker. In clicking through the green kiwifruit link, country of origin was ambiguous, noting, “Grown in the United States, New Zealand, Chile or Italy.”

Given consumers want to know country of origin, this didn’t inspire me to feel like I was clear on where the kiwifruit I was buying on that particular day was from. 

In clicking through further, there was no brand information nor any specific information about the producer. There was one page of generic information which covered ripening, storage, preparation and a ‘chef’s tip’, but there was no expression of any brand, brand personality/story or brand origin.

This seems like a huge missed opportunity. Amazon.com is the USA’s leading online sales company – while I understand not promoting a brand might be policy, it seems crazy to me that this technology giant can’t accurately define the country of origin for any given day of purchase.

I give them a ‘good for the produce brand score’ of 2.

Now, let’s move to China. Fruitday.com has been one of China’s leading, specialist online fruit retailers for more than a decade. I have had the pleasure of working with Fruitday.com for several years and what I can say is they are all about the brand.

In China, access to brands we consider every day has only come in the last 20 years. So China’s relationship with ‘the brand’ is different. Branding is EVERYTHING. This means there is a huge focus on stocking key brands and promoting key brands. This is clearly evidenced in Fruiday.com’s marketing.

While Amazonfresh.com only offered two, non-branded kiwifruit products (the other option was an organic green kiwifruit), you can see Fruitday.com offers 11 different kiwifruit variants – all Zespri branded. Eight of these are Zespri gold kiwifruit variants, but three are Zespri green kiwifruit. 

The Zespri brand is very famous in China and Fruitday.com gains significant credibility by promoting it.

Drilling down by clicking into one of Fruitday.com’s green kiwifruit on offer, I am greeted with an array of great marketing materials. While I do not speak Mandarin, the photos speak for themselves in terms of the story being told.

The brand is highlighted. The production story is highlighted. The origin story is highlighted. Storage and ripening information is provided using visual icons. And the final montage is promoting the goodness and healthfulness of kiwifruit for all stages of life.

It’s fair to say the difference between Fruitday.com and Amazonfresh.com’s green kiwifruit marketing is significant. So I am scoring Fruitday.com a 9 in terms of being ‘good for the fresh produce brand.’

I was recently at an industry event and was talking to colleagues about this column. What amazed me was how unaware people were of what was happening in online produce sales.

People – a new era of how fresh produce gets sold is coming. If you are participating in this brave new world and you have a brand, then you need to become aware of the impact of online selling and the advocacy required to make sure your brand is managed well in this new environment.

For the most part, in the USA online selling currently means a loss of brand control and brands get genericized. Frankly, this is not good enough. Selling fresh produce online is already a huge change for consumers as it removes the sensory interaction with our products. To replace this, interaction, brand story and brand promotion is critical. Otherwise, we are all just taking a backwards step once again into the world of commodity.

I would love to hear from companies selling online in the USA. How are you finding it? Do my findings of brand absence reflect what you have experienced?

If you want to talk about this more, give me a ring or drop me a line. We have worked too hard to get produce branding off the ground for it to face a setback now – especially when the technology is there to promote the brand – as evidenced by what we can see in China. Head on over to www.freshproducemarketing.com for my contact details.

www.freshfruitportal.com

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