Like a lot of other folks in the fruit and vegetable industry, I’ve been thinking more and more about branding. Marketing experts say it’s the only way for growers to command premium prices, because without a brand, a given fruit or vegetable is simply a commodity.
There’s no question this movement toward branding has had tremendous effects on the fruit business. It wasn’t that many years ago that the Washington Apple Commission (WAC) was still doing domestic marketing. But big growers in that state wanted to differentiate their own brands, not chip in to a program designed to raise all boats.
The WAC’s domestic marketing program was dissolved, and other federal marketing orders, such as the California Tree Fruit Agreement, met a similar fate shortly after the turn of the millennium.
Brands have power, even if they’re not brands. Take the ‘Honeycrisp’ apple. That’s a variety name, but it has more power than any brand in the apple business. It’s because ‘Honeycrisp’ immediately conveys to the consumer the top quality they’ve said they want in an apple: Crunch.
Branding is all about instantly conveying a message. It’s not so much about the words used so much as the image. You’ll often hear of so-and-so having “an image problem.” Not good, an image problem, because just as it takes a while to create an image, it takes a while to shake one.
That’s why I was taken aback at a recent conference I attended in California’s Silicon Valley. Speaking of images, the other Golden State valleys where I’m usually found — the San Joaquin, Sacramento, and Salinas — aren’t far away, but I can guarantee the image created by the names of those valleys was very different, indeed.
The THRIVE AgTech Innovation Forum featured a lot of fascinating ag start-up companies making pitches to venture capitalists — VCs, as everyone says in that crowd — in an attempt to grow their businesses. (By the way, I don’t recommend wearing a badge that says “Media” at such an affair, unless you want to be instantly rejected by eager, aggressive smart people on the lookout for a cash infusion.)
The panel was talking about the shortage of ag labor, not the repetitive field jobs that normally come to mind, but workers who will be able to operate some of the precision agriculture technology that is coming to farming.
The problem, he said, was that ag itself has a branding problem. Its image is of just those very tasks described above, repetitive, physical work. That’s not a brand, an image, that’s going to attract talent.
Kellerman noted there is another field of endeavor that had a similar image problem that was able to rebrand itself, transforming its image: The Military. Not only was it physically demanding, it had the added problem of being dangerous.
But look at the ads for the military today. They show people in control rooms, working on computers, checking satellite maps. It’s worked for the military.
And if you think about it, that’s what many of the jobs of tomorrow in our industry are going to look like. The time has come for a rebranding, an image reboot for ag.