Consumers want up-to-date information on their food purchases, and they demand it instantaneously.
From quick-response codes on product packaging to Facebook pages and hundreds of food applications, technology is taking over the produce aisle.
Smartphone users eagerly download apps that help demystify the produce section — whether it’s describing specialty items, providing tips on how to select ripe produce, indicating pesticide levels or helping them buy organic.
People want to know about the fruits and vegetables they are buying.
Giant Eagle Inc., Pittsburgh, provides its customers with a watermelon salsa recipe sporting a QR code that links to a video of one of its Market District chefs preparing the recipe.
“We try to communicate with customers in their preferred method and make this info available via our circular, website, social media and e-mail,” said Craig Ignatz, vice president of produce and floral merchandising.
“We’re heavily into technology and find that people adapt to this technology quickly,” said Gordon Hunt, director of marketing and communications for the National Watermelon Promotion Board, Orlando, Fla.
“We have to be really flexible and really fast, and all this new technology has allowed us to do that.”
He said the watermelon industry uses QR codes on melon bins that, when scanned, will take people to the board’s website.
The board also has a mobile app that directs consumers to recipes and carving tips.
Add that to a YouTube site, a watermelon blog, a Twitter account and a Facebook page that boasts more than 3,000 fans, and the watermelon industry is bursting with information from every angle.
“We’ve just scratched the surface of it,” Hunt said.
Supermarket chains across the country have mobile apps that allow their customers to quickly view weekly specials, create shopping lists and find recipes, among many other uses.
Many retail chains also stock produce brands that use the HarvestMark Food Traceability app, which adds support for QR codes by allowing shoppers to receive relevant item-specific content, such as where, when and how a food was grown.
Research has shown that by sharing this information with shoppers, producers are able to drive brand preference and loyalty.
Matt Solana, vice president of operations for Jackson Farming Co., Autryville, N.C., said his company doesn’t employ an app on its labels, but “I’m sure we will in the future as technology continues to grow.”
The company has a website, a Facebook page, a Twitter account and a blog.
“The item we are looking at next is the app technology for smartphones.”
First, he said, questions would need to be answered about what kind of and how much information should be provided.
Retailers are always looking for easy ways to put necessary information right at consumers’ fingertips.
Hunt said QR codes are the way to go and definitely in the future for the melon industry.
He sees them being used to run contests, to provide suggested recipes aimed at selling other commodities and as a way to offer specials to loyal shoppers.
“We are looking toward the next generation and at (the next generations’) kids because everybody will be getting their information electronically,” Hunt said.