Marketing in the produce industry presents an interesting challenge – how does a company or brand distinguish itself when products often are so similar? There are countless answers: packaging, advertising, telling the story behind the product, differentiated sensory experiences, and many more. All these strategies can lead to success, and create friendly competition under shared goals of boosting produce consumption and supporting healthy, sustainable eating practices.
On the other hand, a frustratingly common method that does not support these shared goals is fear-based marketing. This approach does no favors to consumers or fellow produce industry members and can end up hurting the company’s themselves. In a way, rising consumer interest in learning more about their food has both spurred this trend, while simultaneously showing why it’s not an effective strategy.
As we identified just last month, some of the hottest trends for food marketing in 2017 are things like consumer interest in sustainability and health. Fresh foods, and produce in particular, is well-positioned to embody these trends. In attempts to double down on these consumer interests, however, it is easy to get so caught up in the marketing spin (buzzwords, catchy slogans, etc.) that focus on actual sustainability and health benefits is lost.
A recent example was one company’s attempt to pander to consumers who see non-GMO as meaning a product is healthier, when there is no evidence to support that belief. The company shared a video boasting that they did not use GMO tomatoes, disingenuously implying that A) other companies are using GMO tomatoes (there aren’t) and B) non-GMO tomatoes are better (no reason that they would be). Reaction to this campaign was swift and harsh, with hundreds of comments flowing onto the company’s Facebook page within 48hrs of their video announcement. Most comments, including those from farmers and scientists, voiced displeasure at the negative and misleading messaging.
Another notable attempt to pander based on fear-based marketing rather than facts includes a restaurant who attempted to demonize the agriculture industry while patting themselves on the back for their own practices just before having a devastating E. coli outbreak stem from their establishments. Even a more subtle, defensible marketing move, such as the reformulation of a popular cereal to be non-GMO, showed how marketing goals overshadow the true strengths of a product. While the company, who acknowledged the change was for marketing reasons rather than any drawbacks of GMOs themselves, spent a great deal of resources transitioning to non-GMO ingredients. However, the cereal lost nutritional content in the process, and the company received significant criticism and no discernible sales boost.
We believe the message is clear – the best approach is to market products based on actual benefits that consumers care about, like sustainability and health!