Conversations at United - Leona with Red Sun Farms
Leona Neill, director of marketing and packaging for Red Sun Farms, talks with The Packer's retail editor Ashley Nickle. ( T he Packer )

Heading into the industry’s first virtual trade show, prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Red Sun Farms adjusted its booth focus to spotlight its growing Sweets program.

“It was definitely a conversation for us trying to understand, in these circumstances, in this environment, what do the retailers want to see, what do we want to give as a message, and we really focused on the areas we thought we could connect well with the consumers and really help the retailers build that vegetable consumption, so for us, that’s obviously the Sweets family,” said Leona Neill, director of marketing and packaging, referring to the company’s Sweetpops tomatoes and Sweetpeps peppers.

Just a few months earlier, at the Southern Exposure show in late February, the Kingsville, Ontario-based greenhouse vegetable grower had been showcasing a new product. Since then, the company has pivoted based on consumer research to feature instead some of the items that already have strong interest among shoppers.

“Some of the trends that we’ve seen with consumers is that they’re really looking for those staple products, they’re looking for those comfort foods,” Neill said. “Obviously the marketplace is a lot different, and people are having to spread that dollar spend a little differently than they did prior to February ... There’s a little bit less tendency to try things that people aren’t 100% certain of and spend dollars in that way.

“That’s a bit of a mind shift from what we had before February, so that’s why we’ve really kind of gone from sort of that direction in the beginning of the year to really helping consumers focus on what we know they know and love,” Neill said.

The company’s team has also been talking with booth visitors about its newest greenhouse, on which construction is progressing steadily.

“We are very excited to have some additional capacity out of that greenhouse, and we also have some capacity coming out of some lights that are coming in as well in Canada,” Neill said. “We are very excited to have this extra volume to work with and meet some growing demand that we’re facing.”