Will health message boost cherry prices?
Are we talking turkey here? $4 per pound…a fair price for perfection?
The day before Thanksgiving, my wife and her twin sister proudly brought home an organically grown turkey from Whole Foods in Fort Collins, Colorado. The bird itself came packed in an attractive cardboard box and had never been frozen. Against my better judgment, I asked them what an organically grown, nonfrozen turkey in a cardboard box was selling for these days.
I was shocked. They had happily paid $4 per pound for the bird. Just that morning, I had seen frozen whole turkeys on sale at Safeway for $1 per pound. When I mentioned this, I noticed that my sister-in-law's cheeks went from white to red, and her retort came in three parts. With raised voice and furrowed brow, she explained to me a few key points:
• This brand of turkey is the most flavorful, she only buys a turkey two or three times a year, she wants it to be perfect, and she's happy to pay $4 per pound for perfect turkey!
• Throughout the year, she plans her family's daily menu around healthy, organically grown products, and this turkey, despite its price, fits within the lifestyle her family has chosen.
• And, speaking of turkey, unless I intend to cook this "four-times-more-expensive-than-Safeway's-bird," she suggested that I get out of her kitchen.
As I hustled out of the kitchen to find a seat in the living room to watch whatever football game might have been on that day, it occurred to me that I had just witnessed a normally rational and frugal consumer (my sister-in-law) throw out everything she knows about shopping within a budget, to pay more for a product because it lived up to her perception of perfect flavor and fit within her chosen lifestyle.
I couldn't help but ask myself what it would take to get my sister-in-law and all the other 25- to 65-year-old menu planners in the United States and Canada to feel the same sort of passion about our cherries.
The health story
In this issue of Good Fruit Grower, growing quality cherries is a central theme. It's an important message. Producing cherries with "perfect flavor" and capitalizing on their healthful properties should be the central goals for our industry in the coming decade.
Certainly, getting consumers to associate sweet cherries with a healthy lifestyle is a great way to overcome the constraints of retail price points. Every product is looking for that one silver bullet factoid that grabs hold of the consumer's consciousness (and subconsciousness) and drives them to the store to improve their lifestyle. Interestingly, these types of messages have recently been associated with decadent products such as dark chocolate, red wine, or to products that have slipped out of the consumer's consciousness, such as the pomegranate. Over the past few years, product sales trends on these products have spiked once the consumer has identified them as being healthy. Analysts can only associate this growth with consumers' growing awareness of the product's health benefits.
Sweet cherries contain high levels of phytochemicals known as anthocyanins that have been proven to improve heart health, reduce inflammation, and provide a natural form of pain control. In fact, sweet cherries have much higher anthocyanin levels than other healthy products such as tart cherries, raspberries, grapes, and strawberries. The story is out there. Our industry just needs to keep telling it.
From a consumer awareness standpoint, the industry must push for the same notoriety that has been awarded dark chocolates, red wines, blueberries, and pomegranates. In the near future, as an industry, we will have to put together a plan for further exploring the studies that must be done to continue to develop our health messages. Likewise, it should remain our collective goal to find and disseminate the health messages that will help us reach the many potential consumers who are not eating cherries.
At the end of the day, cherries remain a unique product that has the mystique of being seasonal and is truly good to eat and good for you. This summer, the cherry industry will enter the market with hopes of reaching that "turkey-in-a-box" status where price becomes secondary to lifestyle.
Interestingly, the four-dollar-per-pound turkey actually was the most flavorful I had ever eaten, and whether we are talking turkey or cherries, organic or conventional, anthocyanins or melatonin, flavor perception will always be our quickest "silver bullet" to success.