Pick a tree fruit, and most have cultural associations going back centuries. Apples hearken back to Adam and Eve, pomegranates to the myths of ancient Greece, and cherries have been a cliché of poets good and bad.
Now, British Columbia’s David Geen is hoping some common associations can help promote his cherries. Working with designer Bernie Hadley-Beauregard, principal of Brandever Strategies in Vancouver, B.C., Canada, Geen launched Jealous Fruits this year to give the cherries he grows on 250 acres in Lake Country, British Columbia, a distinct image in stores. Designed for both clamshell packages and bulk boxes, the Jealous Fruits label plays up the privileged place cherries hold in people’s imagination as a sensual, luxurious fruit.
On the Jealous Fruits label, other fruits kvetch that cherries have no appeal: They don’t keep away doctors like apples do in the old rhyme; they can’t be peeled like bananas; and squeezing a cherry will give you something other than cherry-ade (say the lemons).
The reverse psychology is a playful effort to pitch cherries to sophisticated shoppers. While cherries pretty much have a guaranteed market among those who love them, Geen believes branding can help boost cherries’ unique identity.
"The branding is a way of capturing people’s feelings about cherries, and hopefully make it into a memorable name that’s going to be front and center in their mind," he said. "Even if you don’t get the concept, the name itself is very catchy."
The launch of Jealous Fruits in North America this past summer garnered an overwhelmingly positive response. Tony Yan, produce manager at Meinhardt Fine Foods in Vancouver’s upscale South Granville neighborhood, sold 100 cartons of the cherries over the course of a month.
Yan isn’t sure whether the cherries’ colorful packaging or their placement next to the checkout lane did the most to boost sales. With less than 5 percent spoilage, however, he considers them a success. The lower losses translate into better margins for Meinhardt’s, and a greater likelihood Yan will order the cherries next year.
Jealous Fruits’s sales are split almost evenly between bulk and packaged cherries, but Geen hopes packaged cherries will take off in the same way packaged berries have. While he expects the bulk format will be more important at smaller retailers such as Meinhardt’s and in Asia (where buyers like to pick their own fruit), the clamshell packaging is what highlights the brand.
"With the bulk package, the trade will remember it—you can build up a reputation for your label with the trade—but it’s more difficult to build your reputation with the consumer," he said. "Our hope is, over time, to get more and more of our product into the consumer packs."
Indeed, if there was ever a time for growers to package their product, Bernie Hadley-Beauregard believes the time is now. A strong consumer interest in local food makes it important for growers—especially local growers—to distinguish what they’re growing from the run of options in the produce aisle.
"I’m staggered at how much growers tend to accept the commoditization of their products," he said. "It seems untenable to me to actually have something that’s superior just fall into the batch of averageness."
It’s something Hadley-Beauregard has seen in the wine industry, helping a number of Okanagan wineries establish a name for themselves. While wineries are trying to stand out in a forest of labels, and fruit growers are trying to distinguish themselves in an anonymous crowd, Hadley-Beauregard said the same issue dogs both sectors.
"You’re competing not only against your neighbor across the lane, but also a grower in Chile who has the same motivations as you do for quality and price," he said. "The market’s just not strong enough to sustain everyone, and you really have to be aggressive and assertive."
A strong identity is even more important than production practices in distinguishing growers, Hadley-Beauregard says. While the cherries Geen produces may deliver good flavor that’s backed up by GlobalGAP certification, sales will get a bigger boost if consumers know who produced the fruit.
"You may say, ‘Hey, this is a fine batch of cherries, but I have no idea where it came from.’ Now, with [the grower’s] signature on the package, you can actually just go there with confidence and say, ‘I had these last year, these were great," and know that they’ll deliver on it," Hadley-Beauregard said.
The branding promises to strengthen Geen’s connection not just with consumers but retailers.
With plans to take marketing and distribution in-house in 2009, Geen hopes to boost his reputation for top-quality fruit with retailers in a way he never could through brokers.
"Removing the layers between myself and the market is going to make me a better grower," he said. "You hear directly from your customer what they like and what they don’t like. You’re getting that feedback completely unfiltered. You very quickly learn to adjust your farming practices and your packing practices to cater to your customer."