The Long Tail

The niche area of sales is something of an art form in the produce industry. Think of how kale, imperfect produce, and superfoods have played the role of the unlikely champions in food trends.


The rise of these once underdogs is why understanding the Long Tail concept is hugely beneficial, especially for the specialty portion of the business.


Named by Editor of Wired Magazine and Author Chris Anderson, the Long Tail is emphasised as a strategy for leading business thinkers in Business Model Generation; the “handbook for visionaries, game changers, and challengers.” In fact, for those interested in different businesses approaches, this is just a small sample of what is available when reading Business Model Generation.


So What Is The Long Tail?


It is a business strategy in which you sell a number of niche products at a low price and turn a high total profit because of either the popularity or “niche” of that item, as opposed to the more traditional selling method.


In the shortest of terms - less is more.


A popular way to bring this theory off the page and into dollar terms is the example of how Amazon has built a lot of its success. In recent memory, the company unveiled net sales much higher than anyone anticipated because it appears that its larger, louder investments haven’t panned out. Yet the smaller sales, those stashed treasures in Amazon’s warehouse that are bought quietly by average middle-class consumers sitting in their living rooms, have added up to a large enough number that the company was able to overtake Wal-Mart in stock value.


While Anderson’s main focus when identifying the Long Tail business concept is for media and Netflix, there is something to be gleaned for fresh produce as well.


An example that might bring this strategy closer to home is Frieda’s, Inc., in which Founder Frieda Caplan began in a produce industry that only had a handful of options to choose from. Selling items popular in other regions, such as mushrooms or certain fruits, even renaming items like the Kiwifruit, targeted a niche that was not previously cultivated. Now the documentary Fear No Fruit credits this industry veteran with the pioneering of over 200 produce items available in the U.S. market today.


The super premium juice category has also been an evolving niche in recent years as companies look to find new secondary products to diversify their programs and utilize more of their harvested product. This has allowed companies like Grimmway, Del Monte Fresh, or Cuties to tap into a greater share of the produce market.


The investment of selling low-demand items in large enough quantities to make a profit that outweighs more “mainstream” inventory is what the Long Tail strategy is all about.


According to Business Model Generation, Anderson states that there have been three economic triggers in today’s society that have made this concept a business strategy worth practicing.


1. Affordability


The first of these triggers is the fact that tools that would have, just a few years ago, been too expensive for anyone who was not already monetarily successful to purchase are now much more affordable.


2. Easy to Distribute


How easy it is to distribute a product or idea. The Internet has opened up a world of consumers, employers, and clients for little-to-nothing. In fact, the ease of access has created a bar of its own for attention-grabbing content because so many have taken to social media to get their business or product out there. Now the right graphics, mobile-friendliness, and SEO have become factors that were almost, if not completely, unnecessary a short time ago.


3. Easy-to-Find Customers


The ease and affordability of finding the right customer. Anderson notes that one of the largest challenges of selling a niche product was finding the niche. Now finding your desired demographic is as easy as typing your product into Google.


While the name of this concept is relatively new, it is a strategy that appears to have been a driving force in the industry for quite some time.


The entire fresh category has expanded vastly over the last 40 years thanks to the Long Tail strategy, growing from an aisle in the grocery store to a movement in health and locally-grown products. Current trends like kale, quinoa, even imperfect produce are all born of a consumer drive for the specialty or previously unmarketable fresh products.


So the next time you considering throwing out inventory because it isn’t widely demanded, or turning away from less-mainstream items, consider the niche category and what it has done for fresh produce thus far.