Retail marketing strategies abound for local produce

07/30/2010 10:52:23 AM
Jim Offner

What’s the best way for retailers to showcase locally grown produce?

“There’s not just one answer,” said Robert Verloop, executive vice president of marketing for Naturipe Farms LLC, Naples, Fla. “A lot depends on how retailers themselves address the issue and we try to accommodate that part of it.”

The strategy could include store demonstrations, signage, point-of-sale materials and special pricing, Verloop said.

“It’s a combination of many things,” he said. “We work with retailers and foodservice operators who see this as an opportunity to communicate a good message to their customer base. It’s more a strategy that if a retailer wants to focus on a local program, we have a strategy that will work for them.”

More and more chains are popping up and offering broad local programs, which is a wise strategy, Verloop noted.

“It connotes freshness and support for local growers,” he said. “On a very limited basis, in national chains, you have to have a lot of customized programs. But they don’t want to give the impression their product isn’t fresh the rest of the year. It’s about supporting good stewards of the land.”

Local produce can play a similar role that organics play, Verloop said.

“The local grown is a way of people saying we care about the food we eat and we want to eat more produce, and quality matters,” he said.

Truly “localizing” a local produce lineup often means personalizing the product, said Ray Gilmer, vice president of communications for the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association.

“I’ve seen examples of stores where they use the name of the farmer who’s providing them product,” he said. “Putting a face and a name with that product is probably a great strategy.”

A good local program starts with knowledgeable buyers, said Dick Spezzano, president of Monrovia, Calif.-based Spezzano Consulting Services.

“That means you have to get out there and talk to the growers, find out what their season is and you have to make some kind of commitment to those growers,” he said. “They want to know they have a customer.”

They’re also eager to work with a buyer who offers that commitment, Spezzano said.

“A buyer says, ‘If you grow tomatoes and harvest, we will buy from you if you have quality, size and at what we’re willing to pay,’” Spezzano said.

A shrewd buyer counts on a certain amount of high-quality product each week, and the grower has a steady customer, which works out for everybody, Spezzano said.

“You know who your growers are going to be,” he said.

For some retailers, Spezzano said, that means posting photos, names, even addresses of growers in the produce department.

“People can relate that farmer to what they buy in the store,” Spezzano said.

In some cases, growers visit stores to answer questions and talk about their wares, Spezzano said.

“They can answer questions about what they do as stewards of the land,” he said. “He may live 50 miles away, but he’s still a neighbor.”

Signage works wonders for sales of local produce at retail, said Ed Odron, owner of Odron Produce Marketing & Consulting, Stockton, Calif.

Rockville, Md.-based retailer Magruder Inc., which has seven stores around the Washington, D.C., area, sources its local product at the Maryland Wholesale Produce Market in Jessup, Md., said Mike Patterson, the chain’s produce director.

“They’ve really put together a good package this year of all local growers, letting us know who they are and who they’re buying for,” Patterson said. “We know who the grower is, and we can put that information in our ads.”



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