From the pages of Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit
As part of The Amsterdam Produce Summit, we offer two regional tours. One is a tour of Amsterdam retailers with a special focus on those doing interesting Omni-Channel work. The other is a tour of the European headquarters of CH Robinson and Robinson Fresh. Executives of these two companies have done us, and the industry, a special favor in doing an important research report on the nexus of produce and omni-channel.
Robinson Fresh is an unusual produce company, one willing to invest in gaining insight that can really help its customers… and elevate the industry. We are most grateful that they will be unveiling the results of their latest Omni-Channel study in Amsterdam. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to get us a sneak preview of what those on the tour to Robinson Fresh’s European Headquarters will learn while in Amsterdam:
Vice President of Sales and Marketing
Eden Prairie, Minnesota
Q: As Omni-Channel is the theme for the entire conference, we’re excited to learn you have new research to reveal in Amsterdam to help attendees navigate this phenomenon. Will this be an extension of the consumer research you presented to attendees on last year’s Robinson Fresh tour?
A: Our Omni-Channel research will be ‘hot off the press.’ We have initial results, but they have not yet been fully analyzed, so the benefit for those attendees will be that the research will be very fresh and new; however, we can’t go into the details yet of what those results are, but we can go into the details of what we’re anticipating. We’re working with our teams to be able to share some statistics and key insights in Amsterdam.
Q: Can you outline the targeted areas of research you’re delving into and why?
A: There are a few things we are looking into as part of our Omni-Channel research. For example, who is most likely to purchase online versus instore (age, location, family size, etc.)? What, if any, motivators drive or deter purchases (such as brand, the item purchased, availability, reviews, etc.)? What recommendations are revealed to capture the sale?
Q: OK. Could you provide context on the impetus of this research?
A: I’ll kick us off here on why Robinson Fresh got involved in this space to begin with. Ultimately, as we continue to grow across the globe, what we’ve seen is the consumer continues to change and shift, both from a geographical perspective and demographic one, across multiple generations.
As we build our company presence, and as we see our retail customers and other key stakeholders servicing the consumers, the more value we can bring… the more data we can deliver to help drive sales of fruits and vegetables to those retailers and other consumer-facing channels. That data empowers these outlets and allows us to bring them customized product solutions and best-in-class supply chain services to address those shifting consumer needs.
Q: How does the competitive retail and supplier landscape look like now?
A: Today is Monday, and the environment has probably changed since I left the office Friday. I’m saying that tongue-and-cheek, but the reality is the landscape is changing quite dramatically, and at different speeds, depending on the demographics we’re talking about, and depending on the geography.
Certainly, we’ve seen more of a shift to online purchasing of fresh produce, probably not surprising to you, but that shift is changing at various speeds in different parts of the world. When we talk to our customers in China, the growth for online purchase of fruits and vegetables is certainly more dramatic than we’ve seen in other areas like Western Europe and the U.S. However, we continue to see shifts in that direction as well.
For us, we are focused on that connection between retailers and other key customer channels to building trust with the consumer. That’s what it’s really about — allowing consumers to have trust that the products they’re purchasing now online are the same quality they would purchase themselves in a brick-and-mortar format.
So, it’s how do you build trust, how do you produce the products and distribute those products through these outlets that allow consumers to buy products in a fashion that’s most convenient for them in the way they want to buy?
Across all channels, we believe we will continue to see the growth in consumption of fruits and vegetables and the way those products are purchased, so being able to manage expectations, manage that trust, is very important.
Q: Are there different strategies for producing and distributing products through e-commerce versus brick-and-mortar. Are you broadening your repacking operations or working with your suppliers to do different kinds of services to meet e-commerce requirements and demands?
A: It’s really about the speed on how information flows today. If you think about how e-commerce companies purchase products or the packaging and how they design the product to meet consumer needs across all of these channels, I think the key difference we’ve seen — that we’ve been able to keep up with and continue to make investments in — is the speed in which products are demanded and needed.
So, certainly there are different packaging requirements. Certainly, brands of products have become more important than ever before. When consumers buy brands on line, there is a certain trust and expectation that the consumer has. Whether packing for a retailer’s private label or packing under our own brand to give consumers different experiences and different expectations around the globe, that’s important.
But really it’s the speed of getting information, the speed of getting faster deliveries and more efficiencies to drive costs out of the supply chain, and to be able to deliver that value to our clients. This enables them to quickly react to the needs of their consumers, who are purchasing online more often and are doing so in ways that have changed their own expectations to having products delivered to them or where they want to pick them up in a much more expedient fashion than ever before.
Q: Can you talk more about logistics challenges in an Omni-Channel future?
A: In our previous discussions, we’ve talked a lot about logistics. We’re a global logistics company, one of the largest in the world focused on fruits and vegetables. That uniquely qualifies us to be able to meet demands of our clients and ultimately the end consumer, because of our strength in temperature-controlled logistics globally.
Whether it’s leveraging our massive scale or creating efficiencies on the logistics side using our service centers around world — which can help deliver the final-mile solutions to our customers — or by using our technology platforms that increase visibility and transparency through the entire supply chain— which again feeds into that trust our customers require, and that the end consumers require as well – our goal is to move products around the globe in such a fashion that increases the freshness to the store and the consumer no matter what channel it’s purchased from. All of this boils down to speed, transparency, efficient logistics and properly managing the cold chain.
Q: I wanted to go back to your point about the influence of brands in consumer purchase decisions; about the association of brands and trust when consumers are shopping online. Could you talk more about how Omni-Channel could affect branding and private label strategies?
A: Our analytics team discovered a telling statistic we can share for online sales of produce. For those who already buy produce online (occasionally or more), they’re even more likely to say brands increase their comfort level. In fact, 57 percent of those who buy produce regularly online said, “Definitely, yes, brands increase my comfort level,” with an additional 25 percent saying “Probably yes,” brands increase the comfort level for them.
One thing is for sure: consumers will always value brands, and brands come in various shapes and sizes, whether you’re an online retailer or brick-and-mortar retailer or in many of the formats we operate in today that navigate across multiple channels. Ensuring that the right brands are in place that the consumer at the point of purchase feels good about that purchase… and being able to deliver that brand promise with high quality products and execution, that’s the key.
From a category management approach that we’ve taken across the entire enterprise, what consumers value… the type of packaging they value, how do we make our clients better by insuring that the products on their shelves are there to improve point-of-purchase sales to drive more volume, that’s the key.
And for us, although we represent iconic brands, like Welch’s, Motts, Tropicana and Green Giant Fresh, which certainly have quite an appeal across multiple demographics and geographies, we also realize that meeting the needs of our clients across our entire supply chain, and ultimately the end consumer regardless of the brand strategy, has been very important to us.
Q: Do you think there is a move towards more private label with Omni-Channel?
A: It’s an interesting question and one that I read quite a bit about in some of the other panelists’ preview pieces for the Amsterdam Produce Summit. I think it really depends on a variety of factors. I’ll go back to demographics, geography, age, etc. I think all of those play a role in how brands are valued at the consumer level. In certain pockets, private label has shown it can be quite robust in terms of growth on the consumer side of things, but also, I think brands across all categories have really increased.
Q: Will you be pulling out some of this distinguishing data in Amsterdam?
A: This is part of the information and the hidden secrets we plan to share in Amsterdam and with our clients. Those attending the tour at our headquarters in Amsterdam will be able to learn a little more about what we’ve discovered through our research.
Q: Since you are still working on the analytics, and want to leave some surprises for attendees, could you provide insights into the significance of the results? And can it be translated to direct increases in sales and profitability?
A: What we’ve done at Robinson Fresh over the past couple of years, and, really recently where we’ve taken it, is an enterprise approach to category management. Through this discipline, our team has learned to apply a common framework to better understand and interpret consumer needs.
When you look at data that we’ve captured, not only from our own research we’ve done with own clients, but the research we’ve captured across the entire globe in multiple channels, and when you take that data and its interpretation, the results given to our clients will help them improve their supply chain and their profitability levels at the point at which the consumers are purchasing that product.
Q: Do you have any examples?
A: When you think about our category management approach and taking that enterprise-wide application, the 15,000 employees at CH Robinson around the globe, the more than 100,000 clients that we have, and our focus in being a leader in the fresh food industry, it really gives us quite a bit of data points to be able to investigate and bring back that information to our key clients to help them make better decisions.
We’ve taken a holistic supply-chain approach from innovation and new products we’ve recently launched because of the data and what we’ve heard from consumers. Think about things like convenience, and then our new relationship with Albert Bartlett and the Perfect Potato we launched recently at the PMA Fresh Summit…. that’s one example of an outcome that we’ve learned from the data, global relationships, etc. You take that into product development and execute the final product with a bit of innovation, and that brings value to the consumer and increases sales for the retailer.
Looking at the entire supply chain holistically is really the value Robinson Fresh brings to the marketplace.
I’d like to bring in Jag Gill, our customer group manager in Europe, into the conversation here for another good example — our strategic alliance with Chilean fruit producer Verfrut, and what a best-in-practice supply chain execution can mean, not only to our two organizations, but ultimately to the consumer.
[Editor’s note, Jag joins the discussion from the Amsterdam office].
Jag: I can give you a peak into that relationship… One of the exciting things that changed from this time last year is that we are now the exclusive partner with Verfrut into Europe. Verfrut is the largest Chilean grape grower and also a significant Peruvian grape grower. They also have many other items that they grow, and they control 100 percent of their own production.
We offer Verfrut an outlet and logistics they would otherwise not have, and they offer us a great quality product, so it’s a very symbiotic relationship and something we’re looking forward to speaking about at the Summit.
[Editor’s note: You can read more on Robinson Fresh’ accelerated European growth strategies here in our sister publication Produce Business UK.]
Q: Thank you for that additional insight. Let’s tie this back in with your Omni-Channel research since this will be a focus in Amsterdam..
A: We definitely appreciate your targeted Omni-Channel approach at the Summit. If you think about the research we’ve done, as consumers get more comfortable with technology across all age groups, the ability or the desire and willingness to use online platforms to purchase products is going to continue to increase. If you think of young folks, like you and me, how comfortable we’ve gotten with purchasing products online.
Q: Thanks for including me in the young folks’ category!
A: As we get older and tend to spend less time out of our homes, or not traveling as much, the desire and need for convenience and trust in brands and products, whether it’s a proprietary brand, like the ones we produce, or brands that are retail-produced, that trust, that connection to the consumer, is going to continue to change and evolve. And for us, taking a holistic logistics-chain approach to driving efficiencies in order to increase freshness into the marketplace is what we focus on. We want to bring new, innovative products that are branded, convenient, and efficient for consumers to prepare a great quality meal at home, and we want to also deliver high quality products all the way through the foodservice sector and through large retailer that attach themselves to consumers through multi-channels.
Q: Do you have a division that’s working on developing innovative products, new packaging, etc., and different collaborative partnerships? How does the creative process unfold?
A: It’s a great question. As a multinational, with the Robinson Fresh division, we look to create fresh food solutions that ultimately appeal to the consumer and drive sales for our customers. Our service centers are scattered across the globe for repacking products and producing products that bring value to the consumer. Really, we run the gamut.
We see ourselves as a solutions-provider, with strong grower relationships around the world, and a dynamic supply chain logistics. In the process, it’s about allowing those in the supply chain who perform best at producing these products, whatever the function may be, through some of our relationships with proprietary seed companies in various parts of the world, to producing these products through grower relationships, repacking, providing temperature control logistics, visibility and speed, using integrated technology platform that gives visibility to everyone across the supply chain.
That’s really what we’re talking about here — a category-management approach that’s integrated and provides helpful data and information to our clients, allowing them to increase sales to consumers. For the Amsterdam Summit, we’re really focusing on the consumer and how consumer behaviors are changing.
Q: Can I get you to elaborate a little more?
A: One thing is for sure: As the ability to purchase products online matures, companies like Robinson Fresh, which can execute across the entire supply chain, will get better at delivering products that meet the consumer, whether it’s at the store, or a click-and-brick model, or delivered to the consumer’s door. All of that is shifting and changing at a pretty rapid rate. And our role is to help facilitate that with actions that build trust and confidence in the consumer to continue to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables.
Q: There are going to be a lot of major retailers at the conference as well a range of suppliers. What would you like the key takeaways to be?
A: For retailers, it’s really about the value companies bring across the entire supply chain with products and services they need to achieve their goals and ensure a better consumer experience.
It’s important for retailers to not discount any part of that supply chain, whether it’s a logistics provider, the ability to transmit data faster and in a more transparent fashion, or to produce and deliver product that the consumer can feel better about, and trust. We all have an obligation as an industry to do that.
Whether you’re the retailer, the logistics provider, the grower, the seed company, whether you’re providing category management expertise..when all these parties work together to bring value to the consumer, the industry wins.
Were on the right side of things. Being in the fresh fruit and vegetable industry is a dynamic place to be in. There is a lot of growth opportunity for sure, but we’re bringing value to the consumer, health and wellness and convenience to the consumer. So, I would say to everybody attending the Amsterdam Produce Summit, we’re in this together. It takes key relationships to be able to drive that value.
Q: We’ve talked many times about the push and pull of retailers wanting to go direct and eliminate middlemen, and the complexities of the fresh produce supply chain. Have you seen Omni-Channel strategies impact this dynamic?
A: We have seen that change quite a bit. In fact, what we’ve seen is companies throughout the entire supply chain more and more willing to create relationships forward and backward across that supply chain. As this industry becomes increasingly more complex, with more regulations, more geographical diversity, the desire of consumers to have products 12 months a year … as consumer demands continue to change, the ability to form relationships to bring the most value and efficiency out of that supply chain is extremely important.
As we continue to diversify across all areas with key products and services we bring to the supply chain, we have seen our value proposition in the marketplace continue to increase. Our relationship with Verfrut is a perfect example. We take a global logistics company with category management expertise, integrated technology, the ability to have sales and marketing expertise, and a footprint in Europe like we have today; there’s not one company that can do all that today, so it takes special relationships to be able to deliver that value, to adapt, evolve and shift to meet the needs of the consumer. It’s like building an all-star team, where everyone wins.
Q: You will certainly be part of a winning all-star team in Amsterdam!
A: The conference will be a great opportunity to network and gain insights. We value your shows in Amsterdam, London and New York, and the relationships we’ve built over these many years. We see the tremendous opportunities with the attendees at these iconic events. They continue to grow in influence and, as they do, the ability for us to communicate with key relationships across the globe and the entire industry really gets us geared up for this.
It doesn’t hurt that our European headquarters is just a few kilometers away from the Amsterdam Produce Summit. It’s a convenient way for us to meet our clients and tell our message of the solutions we bring. We also hope we can offer beneficial information through our latest research that can help attendees and the industry as a whole.
Many thanks to Gary York, Jag Gill and the Robinson Fresh and CH Robinson organization for being willing to open their European headquarters and unveil such important research. In doing so, they help Amsterdam Produce Summit attendees but, also, the industry as a whole.
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