Wonderful Orchard Interview
Staff writer Ashley Nickle interviews Wonderful Citrus president David Krause and vice president of marketing Adam Cooper in a mandarin orchard March 28. ( Ashley Nickle )

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — Conversation around what consumers want has informed numerous successful marketing campaigns for The Wonderful Co., and it sees a reimagining of retail as the next step.

The Los Angeles-based company has an insights and market research group and invests significant resources in keeping a finger on the pulse of shoppers, both by tracking response to its own campaigns and by asking questions to get a feel for the broader unmet needs of consumers.

As many people replace the traditional three-meals-a-day structure with frequent snacks — and with about 50% of people saying healthy snacks are hard to find — The Wonderful Co. sees an opportunity.

“We should merchandise how people actually eat,” said vice president of marketing Adam Cooper, who discussed the topic during a tour March 28 of pistachio and almond operations in Lost Hills and citrus operations in Delano. “So whether it’s a snack for lunch, a snack for the office, a snack for working out, a snack for watching the game this weekend, we should have all our healthy snacks organized that way together to make it even easier for our consumers to find that.”

Breaking down the barriers between departments is another move Cooper advocates.

Some retailers have already started doing so, including with the point-of-sale displays Wonderful created to merchandise Halos this season. The pharmacy, the deli and the store lobby have been some of the locations with which stores have experimented.

In terms of pushing healthy snacks, the Holy Grail of sorts is checkout.

“A lot of the European retailers have moved in this direction, where they’ve either eliminated altogether the unhealthy snacks at checkout or they’ve at least created options,” Cooper said. “And it’s a big ask because those healthy snacks don’t move at the same velocity as the more indulgent cheaper items, but it’s really hard for Mom when she has all these things going on and she’s taking her kids with her shopping and she knows and dreads going into the checkout line and there’s going to be that candy bar, and it’s hard to say no at that moment.

“By giving more options, by putting Halos at the checkout lane, by putting Wonderful pistachios at the checkout lane, retailers are communicating to their shoppers that, ‘We hear you,’” Cooper said.

Wonderful has significant market share in both mandarins and pistachios, but it sees plenty of room for growth. Along with devoting tremendous resources to marketing its big brands for mandarins, pistachios and pomegranate juice to grow those sales, Wonderful has been building on the operations side.

Its long-term initiatives include increasing the yield of pistachio trees and extending the mandarin season so the company has an even longer window to market its fruit after most of the competition has finished up for the season. Those moves are still years away but in development.

Wonderful has also been studying e-commerce. The company is building a group to determine how to achieve a presence online that gets closer to replicating the marketing power of in-store displays.

“Everybody is trying to figure out this at the same time,” Cooper said. “We’re just trying to get ahead of it and try to be in the forefront, and we would love to be a resource for these retailers to help them think that through and share what has worked for us and also what has not worked for us.”

One project further along for Wonderful is the development of its lemon and lime programs. The company acquired DNE World Fruit and DNE International last year and had purchased major Mexico lime distributor I. Kunik Co. in 2016.

“We’ve watched the consumer data and the growth in the category and consumption, and we’ve seen both of those increasing quite rapidly, so strategically we’ve been making acquisitions and growing our supply of that, through investments in Mexico and other plantings, heavily in limes, that’s been new to us in the last four or five years, and we’re now the number one lime shipper in North America,” said Wonderful Citrus president David Krause. “Lemons we believe we’re No. 2 in terms of total supply.”

Cooper said the categories have been growing for years and that the growth has accelerated recently.

“I think there are some demographic shifts that have been helping that along and that it’s becoming more included in different types of cuisine, which I think is going to be great,” Cooper said. “We actually only see upside to it, so we’re excited about it.”

During the span of the late March tour, the company also noted operations improvements like limiting the number of forklifts in facilities for safety and reducing dust from harvesting machines to provide better air quality.

It has also created wellness centers and fitness centers for employees and built grocery stores and restaurants where workers can get heavily discounted healthy food.

“Continuous improvement is a big theme for us across our company, and we’re always trying to find new ways of doing things better,” Cooper said. “That’s really what innovation is all about.”