In My View
Understanding the fruit consumer
To survive in today’s market environment, growers and shippers must understand their consumers and the challenges facing their consumers. With so many choices, the produce department can be an intimidating place for consumers. Often people don’t know how to choose fruit. They may not know the correct way to store their produce or even how to use it in meals. Fortunately, this creates opportunities. By conducting and using structured consumer and market research, growers can tailor their production and marketing strategies to better fit their market’s needs. This will effectively yield greater returns on investment.
The PNN Network
The PPN (Peach, Plum, and Nectarine) Network initiated an extensive consumer research project in 2004 to analyze national preferences and eating trends for peaches, plums, and nectarines. The main goals of the initial stage were to identify reasons that prevent consumers from purchasing peaches, plums, and nectarines and to compare sales of these fruits with the sales of other snacks.
There were three different ways consumers took part in the study. Some completed a detailed on-line survey about their consumption patterns and preferences; others kept daily food diaries where they tracked their consumption of all snacks and fruits; and some were interviewed by researchers who joined them on their grocery shopping trips to analyze their purchasing habits.
The research findings revealed a great deal about consumer behavior and presented many opportunities for growers and retailers to capitalize on that behavior. After studying the findings, specific marketing strategies were created to enhance the category performance of California peaches, plums, and nectarines.
One key finding was that peaches and nectarines with splashes of yellow and red are most attractive to consumers. Consumers can perceive all red fruit as overripe. When shown a solid red peach, 52 percent of consumers said the appearance would motivate them to buy less. Obviously, serious consideration should be made in regards to past demands from many retail buyers for “full red” color.
Also, while it’s important to offer fruit in various stages of ripeness, it’s also important to educate customers on how to properly ripen fruit at home. For example, many consumers wrongly assume fruit will ripen well in the refrigerator. Clear guidelines for home ripening were offered, recommending that fruit be refrigerated only after being allowed to ripen at room temperature.
Are you a Cruncher?
After reviewing these and other findings, several programs were created, including two educational programs designed to help consumers recognize their preferences and successfully select fruit that has a greater potential to satisfy their expectations. Each program includes posters, cards, and tear pads strategically placed within supermarkets.
One program was created for the mainstream consumer and traditional store format. That program is called “Are you a Cruncher, Leaner, or In-betweener?” The other program, called “Which Peach is Your Peach?” is designed for the more sophisticated consumer and the high-end lifestyle format.
The programs offer education on fruit selection, varietal differences, flavor characteristics, ripeness, firmness, coloring, home ripening, and storage. The more a person knows about a product, the more likely they are to consume that product.
It is critical to recognize that consumers have a variety of preferences when selecting peaches, plums, and nectarines—and to capitalize on this knowledge. The majority of consumers describe their ideal peach, plum, or nectarine as flavorful, sweet, juicy, and firm, with a little “give.” Many people, however, said they preferred their fruit firmer or softer, sweeter or tangier, juicier or just moist.
The more a consumer understands about their preferences, the more likely they are to enjoy the fruit they purchase. The better the experience, the more likely they are to purchase that type of fruit again.
Conducting the research that provides these insights and acting on the findings add up to opportunity for growers. And, when growers get inside the minds of their customers and tailor their production and marketing strategies to meet the needs and preferences of consumers, all parties benefit.
Blair Richardson is president of the California Tree Fruit Agreement.