Opinion: Growers Can Be Stars

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David Eddy

Those who attend a lot of industry trade shows have probably heard Phil Lempert, or at least heard of him. Lempert is a food industry analyst who is billed as the “Supermarket Guru.” Each year he issues a list, “Top Ten Food Trends to Watch.” If he’s right, this is going to be a good crop year for you growers.

Tops on the list are higher food prices, driven by higher costs of fuel, feed, packaging, food safety — coupled with a higher demand for export. Lempert believes shoppers will shave costs by revising recipes by using less meats and seafood and eating lower cost foods like vegetables. I would think that would extend to fruit as well, especially when you consider another trend on Lempert’s list, “How sweet it isn’t.”

The new dietary guidelines for Americans recommend reducing the amount of added sugars of all kinds, and he expects reduced sugars will be the biggest health claim in the coming year. Along with that will come revised nutrition facts panels that indicate whether the sugars are added, occur naturally, or are a combination of the two. Offering a sweet treat like a nice piece of fruit with zero sugar added looks like it might be a winner. But remember, it’s up to you to make sure to get that Brix up. Nobody wants a tasteless piece of fruit, but it’s an experience that is all too common.

A couple other trends listed by Lempert are even more favorable for growers of high-quality fruit. First, the Baby Boom generation of 76 million who started turning 65 years old last year will control 52% of the total $706 billion spent on groceries by 2015. That’s right, those folks will control more than half the market. Most studies I’ve seen show that the older and the more wealthy you are, the more fruit you consume. And as the boomers continue to age, the more interested they become in foods with health benefits, like fruit.

Embrace The Role

Finally, and I’m saving the best for last, Lempert believes the limelight will begin to shine on growers this year. His reasoning is that more and more people are getting interested in the “Farm to Fork” journey. Whether because of health concerns or whatever, shoppers have become increasingly interested in knowing where their food comes from. Because of that, there will be added emphasis not on the celebrity chefs who prepare the food, but on the celebrity growers who produce it.
Lempert notes that this trend can be seen in the “buy local” phenomenon that is increasingly taking hold. In fact, if you talk to any growers who direct market and really listen to their customers — and those growers would be fools not to, really — they will tell you that the movement toward buying local is at least partly overshadowing the desire for organic fruit. It’s as if the food grown nearby is necessarily more healthful, and though there’s no scientific basis for that, the customer is always right.

In sum, take advantage of your star power. Even if you don’t direct market, there are things that you can do to connect with consumers. What about working with retailers on point-of-sale pictures of yourself — or, perhaps even better, your more physically attractive children? Or what about just putting pictures of yourself or your family on your boxes? These are just a couple of ideas; I’m sure there are lots of others that are a lot better. The point is the consumer wants to get to know you — so make the connection.

David Eddy is editor of American/Western Fruit Grower, a Meister Media Worldwide publication.

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