Jelger de Vriend, co-founder of Innovation Fresh, Amsterdam, speaks at the New York Produce Show and Conference Global Trade Symposium on Dec. 11. ( Tom Karst )

NEW YORK, N.Y. — A simple key to satisfying consumers is asking the question, “Would I give this product to my kids or my mother?”

In a session called “Revolutionizing Produce Quality for Consumers,” Jelger de Vriend, co-founder of Innovation Fresh, Amsterdam, spoke at the New York Produce Show and Conference Global Trade Symposium on Dec. 11 and urged produce marketers to aim for consumer satisfaction with their produce.

Upping the “wow” factor of produce sold at retail will increase consumption, he said.

Measuring consumer satisfaction is a start, he said, noting that Innovation Fresh conducted a study in Europe and found that a good portion of consumers have disappointing experiences with the ripeness of avocados. About 25% of avocados sold as ready-to-eat were in fact not ready-to-eat.

Innovation Fresh monitors the quality of produce sold in supermarkets by purchasing it in stores and analyzing it in a lab for firmness, sweetness, and other quality factors.

Consumers choose supermarkets primarily for the quality of their fresh produce, so any downfall in the quality of produce is especially critical.

Great flavor, shelf life and consistency drive consumption and repeat purchases, while produce marketers have been traditionally focused on supply chain, price and appearance and rarely ever address taste.

“We need to get to the level of what consumers expect for fresh produce and exceed it,” he said. “Increased consumption is about all about exceeding expectations and that’s really the starting point for me and how we can drive the business.”

He suggested retailers should switch from managing specifications to managing consumer expectations.

Knowing data on consumer satisfaction will help them choose suppliers. That means monitoring quality through sales to the consumer, training retail staff on best produce handling practices and providing feedback to growers.

In his remarks, de Vriend said that retailers should consider not carrying immature fruit, even at the risk of not having produce to sell.

Using examples that included Costa Rica pineapple promotions in March and first-harvested Italian kiwifruit, he said retailers often make consumers unhappy by stocking immature fruit.

In a question-and-answer session, an audience member asked what shippers and retailers should do if there are not a lot of other quality options and the market will take anything.

De Vriend said that retailers who stock immature fruit are destroying the start of a season, potentially driving consumers away for weeks or even longer.

“If the stating point is wrong, we are destroying consumption,” he said.

Another audience member asked if it was time to rethink the center-store mentality that produce should be stocked year-round, noting that one regional chain recently stopped ordering Southern Hemisphere stone fruit.

De Vriend responded that Lidl in Holland has a strong reputation despite its hard discount approach in part because when produce is expensive and quality is marginal, they won’t sell it. “By definition, when produce is cheap, then it is good.”

“Maybe we should at some point be brave and say, “Let’s not sell it.”

With consumption declining, he said one reason for that trend is because suppliers and retailers aren’t making consumers happy.

“If we want to drive consumption, let’s get the wow factor in produce,” he said.

 

 
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