Fig marketers look to tie-ins, celebrities

08/04/2009 05:44:21 PM
Abbie Stutzer

Richard DeBenedetto, owner of J&R Orchards, Chowchilla, Calif., said chain markets are showing more interest in figs.

Linda Cain, vice president of marketing at Valley Fig Growers, Fresno, Calif., said figs might be used more at restaurants and eateries, and enjoy upticks in some chains.

Figs tend to perform better in boutique stores, where shoppers have higher incomes, she said. Any sale slip is probably because consumers are choosing food necessities instead of figs, Cain said.

“The fig industry is mimicking what has happened to some higher-end fruit. (The market is) soft, but strengthening,” Cain said.

Whole Foods in Monte Ray, Calif., plans to give figs as much shelf space as nectarines, DeBenedetto said.

Many figs are being placed in display-ready cases to make them easier for retailers to stock, Cain said.

Maury DeBenedetto, owner of DeBenedetto Fruit Co. LLC, Fresno, said consumers are resistant to paying the same prices they paid for figs in the past.

Tonetta Simone Gladwin, owner of Passion Fruit Farms, Merced, Calif., predicted more retail business and direct sales this year.
Co-marketing figs with other products also may improve sales.

Marc Marchini, director of cost analysis and production at J. Marchini Farms Inc., Le Grand, Calif., said one of his customers will co-market fresh figs and gorgonzola cheese this year.

The fig industry is trying to educate consumers and professionals about figs. Increasing fig awareness and reminding consumers to buy may help improve fig sales.

“Our biggest problem is our customer base. Most are 64 and older. We need to get the 64 and younger crowd educated about figs,” said Alan Weeks, president of K&W Farms, Palm Desert, Calif.

In the past, traditional fig consumers were mainly members of minority groups who grew up eating figs, according to the May industry update from the California Fig Advisory Board, Fresno.

The fig industry plans to recruit prominent food personalities to help boost fig popularity.

George Kragie, president of Western Fresh Marketing, Madera, Calif., said in the past food celebrities such as Emeril Lagasse, Mario Batali and Martha Stewart cooked with figs. They put figs in front of the publics’ eyes.

Karla Stockli, chief executive officer of the California Fig Advisory Board, Fresno, traveled to New York City and promoted the fresh fig crop to media this year.

“We have A-list appointments, from Oprah, Rachel Ray, (and) Food Network to dinner with registered dieticians that are leading influencers in NYC to media and broadcast.”



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