In the produce industry, as with nearly any industry, differentiating your company’s brand and products is a major key for success. The produce industry is perhaps a little behind the curve on this, since fruits and vegetables have historically been sold with very little packaging, and therefore few branding/differentiation opportunities were possible. That has now changed, and there are some growing pains that the industry must address for the sake of consumers, and our industry as a whole.
Consumers have become more interested in their food and how it’s produced than ever before, and are also searching for healthy, convenient options at an unprecedented rate. Snackable products (like Arctic® Golden slices!) are becoming prevalent, and the stories of products and brands are being communicated via packaging (including QR codes), websites, social media, and everywhere else.
Arctic® apples are a bit of a special case since they’re the only biotech apple on the market, have a very unique backstory, and of course, their nonbrowning benefit. Our differentiation from other apples is largely a natural one, yet for many other companies, separating themselves from competitors may come from specialized niche products, an off-beat messaging approach, or often, from aiming to differentiate based on emotional appeals to specific consumer values.
Using emotional appeals to build consumer loyalty to brands is nothing new, and is a great way for business-consumer relationship to be deeper and more meaningful than simple transactions. However, we at OSF feel very strongly that fear should not be among the emotions that brands use to market their own products to consumers.
Fear-based marketing is something we’ve discussed before, but our aim is not to tar and feather the companies we feel employ it. Indeed, the intent of a brand adopting a “Non-GMO Project” may truly be a response to common consumer questions they’ve received. However, over time it seems that free-from marketing around GMOs or other modern agricultural approaches has gone well beyond education and into manipulation. For example, a tomato company launched an entire marketing campaign around their avoidance of GMOs, despite the fact that there are no GMO tomatoes on the market, and were slammed for it. And these sorts of practices extend beyond the produce industry, with gluten-free water representing a particularly ridiculous example.
For us in the produce industry, there should be no room to try to push others down for the sake of emotional manipulation. At a time when only 17% of US children eat enough fruits and vegetables, and adults eat even less, it is time to work together to boost consumption. We must work together to help consumers eat more fruits and veggies instead of unhealthy food options, rather than cannibalize each other’s sales with marketing approaches that hurt the entire category.
Encouragingly, the wheels do appear to be in motion for an industry-wide shift on this front. A perfect example is prominent produce company Mann Packaging announcing this fall that they would remove “Non-GMO” labeling from their lettuce products, because they don’t “want to perpetuate a fear that something is wrong with GMOs”. Across the food industry as a whole, associations like the Alliance for Food & Farming and US Dairy Farmers are initiating consumer education campaigns, and that’s exactly what we need more of.
The data shows that “consumers are confused and overwhelmed by conflicting information about food and nutrition” and that’s partially the fault of our industry, but we are also empowered to provide the solution. Collaboration on educational initiatives and an industry-wide move away fear-based marketing can start us down the road to increasingly positive outlooks for the produce industry, and healthier diets and reduced confusion for consumers!