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The 2009 cherry season is over. It’s time to get over it and find a way to win in 2010, says produce marketing and retail expert Don Goodwin.   

Goodwin, president of Golden Sun Marketing, a Minneapolis, Minnesota, consulting firm that specializes in fresh produce, gave the buyer and retail perspective during the Northwest Cherry Institute’s annual meeting in January in Yakima, Washington. With 30 years of produce industry experience, he’s worked for such industry notables as Green Giant Fresh, Target Corporation, Super-Valu, and more recently, cofounded Imagination Farms, a produce marketing company that uses the Disney Garden Produce label to target children.

The Northwest cherry industry needs to learn how to think as one—as a single company—and address issues like fruit sizing, he said. “If it was the Proctor and Gamble Cherry Company and you were all growers, employees, and stakeholders of the company, you’d figure out sizing as it relates to consumer products.”

Goodwin appreciates the fact that growing cherries is not like producing widgets and that Mother Nature has much to say about fruit quality and size. Nonetheless, the industry was challenged last year in putting sizes on the market that the market didn’t want.
“I’m concerned there’s going to be a longer-term residual impact from consumers that got somewhat dissatisfied,” he explained. “I don’t believe that it’s an irreversible situation…but you need to recognize that there’s a long-term challenge there.”

The industry must also work on transparency issues. Companies that succeed are those that have complete supply transparency, he said.
Additionally, more focus is needed on metrics—­measuring things like what consumers are buying, what is being picked and shipped. Analysis of such data must be done every year to understand all elements involved with the market.

Goodwin notes that demand-pricing software is available to help marketers look at real-time patterns and predict optimal pricing levels. Signal Demand is an example of a software program used by other commodity groups, he said.

Another option to help in the pricing arena is gatekeeper software being used by lettuce marketing cooperatives. The software funnels pricing information into a central organization, documenting high, average, and low selling prices. The central organization can see who is selling below and above average prices. Such information could be legally shared within a grower or marketer ­cooperative under the Capper-Volstead Act, he said.

Educating buyers

Goodwin, who last wore a produce buyer’s hat seven years ago, now shares his buyer insight with clients, ­helping them strengthen buyer-seller relationships.

“Think first about what the consumer wants and then teach the buyers what they should be carrying,” he said, adding that most buyers really don’t understand the category or their consumer. “We’re [buyers] not really as smart we think we are,” he said.

Goodwin describes today’s produce buyers as very young, very educated, with a short-term focus. They are ambivalent and aggressive, and driven by data. Many have MBA degrees, but no passion for the produce industry, and have a goal of moving to another job within a year and a half.

“They need to be coached much more than sold to,” he said. “These guys are just not interested in a relationship.”

What buyers want

A study that Goodwin’s company recently completed, showed that buyers want the following from sellers:
• Consumer insight—Buyers want to learn about your customer at a deeper level.
• Understand me—Buyers want
you to study and understand their ­company.
• Better planning—Although some ads are written well before the season starts, they want your input in ­planning the season.
• Crop honesty—They recognize that the crop changes during the season. But if they are to be partners, they need to be told early on of changes, such as size or quality issues. No withholding of information.
• Category growth—They want to know details of category performance and how to move the category forward.

Retail insights

Cherries are one of the most seasonal products in the produce aisle. There is pent-up demand when the season starts, he said. “Announce it boldly. You want to get consumers in early so they can make repeat buys. I don’t know if the average cherry consumer is getting into the deal early enough.”

Cherries are also one of the most profitable items in the produce department, he noted. “You should be shouting that from the rooftops.”
Goodwin encouraged marketers to promote cherries with food editors, cooking shows, food bloggers, and such, to get the core message out. Also, share with retailers what industry groups are doing to create cherry events and energy, he said. And, fight for location in the grocery store, getting your cherries up front and even near the checkout lines.

Health benefits

Goodwin also thinks the industry should support health benefit research. He believes that University of California scientists are on the cusp of discovering more health benefits of cherries. In the future, he thinks consumers will eat specific foods for specific ailments. Already, carrots are being grown and tested in France for their pharmaceutical value, along with specially bred goats that can deliver medicine in goat’s milk, he noted.

It may be that foods will someday be able to deliver more effective medicine than pills, he said.

“Fifty years from now, cherries could be part of the pharmacy.”