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Limoneira: The World on a String

Bright, ebullient, fresh, and fragrant, citrus is one of few foods that can enliven the day—transforming literal zest into the figurative, bringing that brisk healthful feeling to any occasion.

Since its inception in 1893, atop 413 acres of land in Ventura County, California, Limoneira has been providing just that feeling. Over more than a century, the company has grown into a worldwide agribusiness presence—cultivating 11,000 acres and supplying citrus to grocery stores and food establishments everywhere.

John Chamberlain, Director of Marketing“This year marks our 125th anniversary, and it’s an accomplishment that we are all very proud of,” explains John Chamberlain, Director of Marketing. “There are few enterprises in the United States with this level of longevity, and the pioneers that founded our company risked much in making the trek to California. They were entrepreneurs and had grit, determination, and a tolerance for reasonable risk embedded in their DNA.”

It was this pioneering spirit that guided Limoneira throughout its beginnings and established the company as a premier provider of citrus. And, John notes, this same animating force informs the company’s current operations.

“Fortunately, the competitive spirit that our forbearers possessed remains within all of us at Limoneira,” says John. “Our heritage, vertical integration, and commitment to sustainability are competitive strengths that serve us well in the global world of produce. Limoneira’s One World of Citrus® model ensures that we have our produce available around the world, in all growing seasons, for our worldwide grocery and foodservice customers.”

“This year marks our 125th anniversary, and it’s an accomplishment that we are all very proud of.”

—John Chamberlain, Director of Marketing

But how does a company like Limoneira retain that competitive fire? How does the citrus provider stay hungry, so to speak, in its desire to improve and to provide better product and service to its customers and to consumers? The answer is complicated, involving an expansive mission and a series of initiatives and undertakings aimed at addressing—as well as improving upon—the challenges created by a changing food industry. As the head of Limoneira’s marketing department and a 25-year marketing veteran, it’s John’s task to bring the company’s pioneering spirit to bear on the preoccupations of Limoneira’s worldwide customer base and end consumers, and to anticipate the needs of a changeable—sometimes even fickle—food industry landscape.

“Food purchasing—whether at retail, delivered to our homes, or eaten out—has been changing dramatically,” says John. “We realize that our customers pay close attention to consumer trends, and since we work hard to be a value-added partner for them, so do we.”

One way that Limoneira is accomplishing this goal is by highlighting the healthy attributes of its products through innovative programs like its Produce Department is Nature’s Pharmacy™—an easy-to-use interactive model through which consumers can learn more about the on-trend health benefits of Limoneira’s products via computer or smart devices.

“While shopping, a consumer can graphically hover over a human body and identify the fruits and vegetables that can help with certain conditions such as lowering cholesterol, improving bone density, or preventing cardiovascular disease—thereby potentially avoiding a trip to the pharmacy’s supplement or vitamin aisle,” says John. “Limoneira has cross-tabulated 52 health concerns or desired outcomes—to improve energy levels, reduce wrinkles, or promote healthy hair, for example—with 74 fruits and vegetables that contain 12 essential vitamins and 11 essential minerals that address these issues or affect the desired outcomes.”

And while online shopping options, curbside pick-up, delivery, mobile payment acceptance, meal kits, in-store drinking and dining, and the increased role of technology in grocery buying may be more visible trends, John tells me that consumers’ increased desire for fresh and healthy foods should not be discounted as a major force driving the grocery industry at the moment. 

“Fortunately, A.C. Nielsen notes that high-quality produce is mentioned by 57 percent of consumers as one of the primary reasons for frequenting a grocery retailer, and 75 percent of consumers say produce is the most important product in the store,” notes John. “67 percent of all shoppers say they actively seek products with healthful ingredients. Limoneira’s fresh citrus is one of the healthiest and most flavorful items in retail. Not only is it great in recipes, it’s got many other uses.”

Another way in which Limoneira is addressing consumers’ concerns and helping its customers cope with food trends is by addressing sustainability. Sustainability is important to a great and growing number of consumers, an increasingly important driver of sales, and a differentiator for savvy consumers.

To this end, Limoneira has introduced its Misfits™, an imperfect produce program targeting millennials and other consumers that value reducing food waste. Through the Misfits program, John tells me, wind-scarred citrus previously directed to landfills is packaged and sold at competitive pricing to retailers whose consumers seek out sustainable products.

“As a leader in sustainability, Limoneira walks-the-talk when responding to this increasingly important trend and provides reassurance to our customers,” notes John. “Additionally, movies, documentaries, and the news have inspired consumers to change behavior to address the fact that 40 percent of all food is being wasted.”

In addition to the company’s mission-based initiatives targeting food waste and health concerns, Limoneira has worked to promote citrus consumption by expanding the fruit’s application and by partnering with opinion leaders worldwide. From Hong Kong, Shanghai, and London to Cape Town and Lima, Limoneira has paired with influencers and experts with business models that revolve around citrus beyond consumption. This includes recipes, nutritional and beauty applications, and green cleaning lifestyle uses of citrus.

The citrus provider is also working to connect directly with consumers through social media and other online channels—surprisingly fertile grounds on which to connect with consumers. In fact, John tells me that the Food Marketing Institute’s recent Power of Produce report concluded that 72 percent of shoppers check for produce promotions and are open to receiving communications from retailers—with 31 percent of shoppers noting they’re likely to sign up for inbox alerts, 19 percent amenable to checking social media for promotions, and 16 percent opting to receive text messages regarding produce promotions.

“Our company maintains a database of a million consumers, including buyers, marketers, nutritionists, and shoppers, to share knowledge and tips through a yearly editorial calendar with refreshed monthly relevant content,” John explains. “Shoppers also increasingly access information from mobile devices when they’re out-and-about. Instagram videos and YouTube have become the message delivery mechanisms of choice. Limoneira’s Tasti Tuesday™ videos by Megan Roosevelt, also known as the Healthy Grocery Girl®, have become very popular.”

Additionally, John tells me that Limoneira is always looking for ways to build business for its partners to apply fresh ideas that help boost sales and grow the citrus category.

“Several years ago, there were only one or two apple varieties on store shelves; it’s quite common now to have a choice of up to six different types of apples,” John notes. “We’re in the process of educating shoppers that, in addition to our classic lemons, we have several varieties such as our Meyer and Pink lemons. We’ve taken a page out of the wine industry playbook and are highlighting the unique flavor profiles of each of the varieties and how they can maximize the flavor potential of different foods and recipes. Our market research demonstrated that when our Classics, Meyers, and Pinks have been featured with creative, colorful displays and unique flavorful recipes, not only did overall lemon sales increase, so did the sales of each variety as well as sales of the complementary pairing items.”

“Limoneira’s fresh citrus is one of the healthiest and most flavorful items in retail.”

With an eye always attuned to new opportunities, John tells me, Limoneira is poised to continue providing citrus and customer service solutions tailored to changing buying behaviors and a shifting retail landscape.

“The global grocery retail and foodservice world will continue to evolve rapidly,” John predicts. “With our One World of Citrus model, vertical integration, flexibility, fast response mentality, and dedication to sustainability, we believe we are well-positioned to take advantage of the many opportunities ahead.”

It’s the kind of bright outlook and broad horizons you would expect from a company nearly synonymous with citrus.