Organic produce consumers are particularly active in communicating their dietary preferences, and growers, shippers and marketers are responding.
One example is Plant City, Fla.-based strawberry and blueberry grower-shipper Wish Farms, which operates its own patented consumer-feedback and traceability system, FreshQC How’s My Picking.
The idea is to listen and respond quickly to consumers, said Amber Kosinsky, Wish Farms’ marketing director.
Thousands of people from across the nation submit surveys telling about their experience, good or bad, and make suggestions to the company.
Responding to requests
A common theme in these responses has been a request for more organic product, and the company has responded, Kosinsky said.
“The feedback we receive through our FreshQC How’s My Picking program is invaluable to us,” she said.
Wish Farms expects to ship 20% more organic strawberries in 2013 than in 2012 and will double its organic blueberry volume, thanks, in large part, to requests lodged through FreshQC How’s My Picking, said J.C. Clincard, Wish Farms’ vice president of grower relations.
By opening a feedback network, Wish Farms has found not only a way to connect with consumers and learn more about their needs, but also an important tool for accountability within the organization, Kosinsky said.
It’s also peace of mind of consumers who want to know exactly where their fruit originated and how it was handled at each step, she said.
“Every package has a different number that traces back to the picker,” she said.
A website, www.howsmypicking.com, provides information and a video that lays out the process and provides a link between consumers and growers and invites consumers to get involved in the process, Kosinsky said.
“We do personally respond to every single person that e-mails us, whether good or bad,” she said.
If product doesn’t meet consumer expectations, reimbursement is available, Kosinsky said.
“If they rank us a 6 or below, they look to reimburse them for a gift card to the retailer they frequently visit or submit them for a reimbursement check,” she said.
There are other ways of reaching out to consumers.
Watsonville, Calif.-based Lakeside Organic Gardens has a Web mail system that allows consumers to contact the company via e-mail, said sales manager Brian Peixoto.
It may come as a surprise how often consumers contact the company directly, Peixoto said.
“Their comments range from praise over the flavor of our arugula to complaints about how our twist ties are not recyclable,” he said.
Consumers also can call Lakeside’s sales office and speak directly with Peixoto or one of his three other sales representatives, he said.
“I’ve spent upwards of 20 minutes on the phone with a consumer talking about his favorite vegan collard recipe, as well as a lady in the San Francisco Bay who makes kale chips for her kids as an afternoon snack,” he said.
The Salinas, Calif.-based Nunes Co., for example, recently announced that it is promoting its Foxy brand organic products on the public TV program “America’s Test Kitchen,” a cooking show that boasts of an audience of 2.2 million viewers per weekly episode.
“It’s the most-watched cooking show on public television,” said Matt Seeley, vice president of marketing for The Nunes Co., which plays a “sponsorship-partnership” role in the show. “As part of that, we work hand-in-hand with them. They have fantastic social media tools to help us get the word out.”
It’s an ideal forum for organic produce consumers, Seeley said.
“The person who watches public TV: higher income and education, which fits in real nicely,” Seeley said.
Organic produce consumers are engaged, in the TV show and other media, Seeley said.
Communication lines with organics consumers is a must, said Matt Roberts, sales manager with Sedro-Woolley, Wash.-based organic shipper CF Fresh Inc.
“We’re getting better at it it’s important as you go forward, especially on something like organics, where there are a lot of consumer questions out there,” he said.
Tom Deardorff, president of Oxnard, Calif.-based Deardorff Family Farms, said most of the social media attention his company attracts is related to organics.
“When we look at Facebook traffic on our site, it’s probably 90% related to our organic program, which is only about 25% of our production,” he said.
The communication is related to consumers seeking information, he said.
“They’re inquisitive, and having a Web presence and engage that conversation is probably more important on the organic side,” Deardorff said.
Keeping communication lines open with organics consumers is a must today, said Cherie France, sales and marketing assistant with Porterville, Calif.-based Homegrown Organic Farms.
“E-mail and social media have made communicating with our direct consumers easier than ever before,” France said.
It’s all about education, she said.
“Through these avenues we hope to bridge the gap between our growers and consumers by completing the cycle of communication, from field to fork,” she said.