Look back, look ahead to sell more produce - The Packer

Look back, look ahead to sell more produce

12/11/2009 08:38:58 AM
Larry Waterfield

The produce industry hasn’t come close to finding all the ways to sell fresh fruits and vegetables.

Larry Waterfield

There’s plenty of room for clever marketing, merchandising, promotion and innovative selling techniques.

Sometimes it helps to look back at the past in order to find the way to the future.

In the realm of new ways to sell is Edible Arrangements, which markets fresh fruit arrangements that look like flower baskets or displays. The company now boasts 941 franchises worldwide, with $350 million in sales.

The company is less than 10 years old.

The fruit bouquets come in all sizes, and are ready for dipping in chocolate or sauces. Prices range from $15 to $200.

The company, which started in Connecticut, competes for the type of seasonal, holiday, party and gift-giving opportunities exploited by the flower and plant industry.

As the company says, “you can eat these arrangements.”

You can also order them online or over the phone, just like flowers, for Christmas, New Years or Hanukkah.

You can also look back 200 years for ideas for selling. Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia is a popular place for Christmas.

This restored colonial capital is about as close as you can get to a trip in a time machine. Right now Williamsburg is in the middle of its Christmas re-enactments, which include plenty of fresh produce.

In the 18th century, the Christmas tree and Santa Claus had not made their big appearance in North America.

Instead, the colonials, including most of the founding fathers and mothers, celebrated Christmas by lighting candles in the windows, decorating doors with elaborate wreathes made out of fresh fruit and even some vegetables — particularly apples, pears, corn, pineapples, oranges, pomegranates, carrots, okra, lemons, limes and berries — combined with boxwood, holly, pine and other wreath material.

At night big bonfires were lit in the streets, and the local restaurants — called taverns or inns — sold mulled wine, hot rum, and other seasonal libations.

Oranges, lemons, limes, apples, cider and imported wines were key ingredients, along with rum and sugar, in the punch and bowls of wassail that were a key part of the festivities.

Inside houses, tables were graced with elaborate centerpiece decorations of fresh fruits and vegetables, herbs, dried fruit, holly, greenery, nuts, kumquats, grapes and berries. Often, oranges, limes, lemons and pineapples were used.

There is continuing interest in this colonial period, the colonial Christmas, and there ought to be selling opportunities because fresh produce played such an important part in the festivities.  Food was an important part of the social life of the town. The layout of the town told you what was important to these early Americans.

The court house was in the center, along with the parish church and the armory for protection. At the ends of the two main streets stood the college, the governor’s mansion and the legislature, the House of Burgesses.

In between were the main street shops, including those taverns and inns that featured meals and rooms.

Thomas Jefferson may have been the leading produce man in the colonies. Not only did he introduce new kinds of grapes and start the wine industry, he helped popularize the tomato. And his experimental vegetable gardens at Monticello, the “little mountain,” were famous throughout the colonies.

Jefferson famously said the greatest service one could render was to introduce a new crop, plant or food item. He would have been famous as a food innovator even if he hadn’t been president or written the Declaration of Independence.

Even two centuries ago, people were interested in the new, the better, the more colorful or flavorful.

So whether it is yesterday’s elaborate table decorations or today’s “edible arrangements,” the possible ways to market produce are limited only by the imagination.

E-mail lww4@verizon.net

Know some creative ways to sell produce? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.

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