ith a background in trade marketing for both the CPG and video game trades, Julie DeWolf brings a unique perspective to an even more unique industry, in a time when that counts more than ever before. Cultural demographics are shifting, health priorities are evolving, and time is more precious across the individual’s and the family unit’s day.
Seeing that shift in the consumer, Julie joined Sunkist Growers in 2005. Prior to that, and before her six years with CPG and video game industries, Julie was a CPA who worked in both public accounting and private finance. At Sunkist, she is primarily responsible for developing all citrus retail marketing strategies and overseeing execution within the supermarket channel across North America, with a focus on consumer education, engagement, and brand awareness at the point of purchase.
With a diverse range of experiences to inform her role, I took the opportunity to sit down with this retail authority to discuss the changes she sees in the industry, how retailers can adapt, and how creating an experience in the produce department is critical to success in the competitive fresh produce landscape.
When I started in this industry, the notion of consumer convenience was still virtually non-existent. Now, consumers essentially demand it, and have a huge desire to prepare food quickly and easily, or simply wash it and go. They are more curious, more informed, and highly interested in understanding where their food comes from, as well as how it’s grown. Retailers have adapted quite well overall to these changing trends, allotting much more space to these more convenient items and also at times highlighting grower stories. What I would love to see more of in the marketplace is the educational piece at the shelf—for ALL produce—especially in the citrus category. However, there are a number of items that consumers still aren’t familiar with, and that education at the shelf is critical to differentiate flavor profiles and assist consumers in choosing a piece of citrus that fits their tastes.
In the retail environment, we all know how cluttered and overwhelming it can be to find what you need, even when you know what you want! At the risk of being repetitive, I think the most important thing we can do as marketers, and retailers, is to make the discovery process easier for consumers, and that happens through at-shelf/in-store education. Since purchasing decisions, especially in produce, are often made in the store and not beforehand, this becomes even more critical. We have developed a well-rounded portfolio of items, most of them tried and true, to help bring awareness to the category. Currently, we’re developing best-in-class point-of-sale materials based on the findings from an early summer road trip.
Seeing for ourselves how retailers market citrus gave us a great starting point for how to most effectively communicate with consumers. Outside of that new initiative, the tools we find most effective are couponing—both electronic and on-pack—sampling, and secondary display bins that showcase the beauty of the fruit and provide plenty of information for consumers, from flavor and taste profile to nutrition information, as well as suggested uses through our high-graphic imagery. We also have the ability to customize these units with retailer logos or promotional messaging, which has been a great way to gain placement.
When retailers create a citrus destination by merchandising all varieties in the same area, it allows for a consumer discovery process in a way that a more spread out approach does not. A one-stop-shop is definitely the best way to go when there are eight to ten varieties in the market at the same time.
Much like how the apple industry has evolved, citrus is evolving. There are nuances to the different varieties, and, unless retailers communicate those nuances, it is more difficult to convert consumers to become product evangelists. So much of the consumer experience is shared on social media and via word-of-mouth, so achieving trial and getting it into consumers’ hands is the most important initiative we have. A Cara Cara navel has about 180 degrees of difference when compared to a Minneola tangelo—one is pink inside and super sweet, while the other is bold, tangy, and amazingly juicy. I bet that several people reading this aren’t familiar with either variety. That education starts with us but must be executed by our retail partners to have the greatest level of success. We are very engaged in the collaboration process with retailers, and we are making strides to ensure consumers know about these new varieties through ads, sampling opportunities, our secondary displays, and our new POS materials.
We develop and encourage the use of items such as flavor maps or guides that give an overview of the entire category, and our sampling materials always provide information about the variety. Everything we do is centered on consumer education. Because citrus is so versatile, we have also had success placing it in other areas of the store through our display units, namely in the seafood section or with beer, wine, or hard liquor.
Everyone has seen the proliferation of easy-peel varieties in the past five years, and retailers have dedicated a large amount of space to maintaining that section for as many months as possible. Outside of that, we are seeing some fun new varieties emerge as well, such as pink variegated lemons, Meyer lemons, Gold Nugget mandarins, and Ojai Pixie tangerines.
Consumers are learning so much from television/digital/social media food shows and demonstrations these days, as well as from the fairly new segment of meal delivery services such as Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, and Home Chef. I could go on! And this exposure is teaching consumers how to use citrus in a more versatile way than just eating it as a snack or squeezing a lemon on your seafood. At Sunkist we are heavily involved in providing and developing more ways to use citrus, from main dishes to beverages and desserts, and even in applications such as aromatherapy, bath-and-body, and home cleaning. The possibilities really are endless, and more progressive retailers understand this and highlight citrus for its uses other than just snacking—which is still a great way to consume it!
I’m going to be a little bit bold here and say that it feels to me like CPG is now following our industry more than ever, compared to the other way around. Because consumers want healthy, great-tasting food, they are turning to produce to make significant changes in their lives. CPG companies are scrambling to make their products healthier by reducing/removing sugars and HFCS from their products, eliminating chemicals that no one can pronounce, and acquiring start-ups that have a health halo to diversify their offerings.
Produce is sitting squarely atop the health ladder, and we don’t have to make any changes to be able to say that, which is refreshing. But looking at CPG and having worked in that industry for five years, I would say that the largest impact it has had on our business is in the areas of branding, packaging, and convenience. Who would have thought 30 years ago that packaged salads would ever be so mainstream? More and more these days, produce companies are understanding the importance of becoming a brand rather than just a commodity. Creating a point of difference from your competition, and creating a lasting impression on your consumers through your brand name and attributes, is becoming a necessity now. I’m so excited to see what else our amazing industry has in store for us in the coming years.
We work in an enviable space, have authentic and healthy and beautiful products, and it’s all provided by Mother Nature. With the changing consumer basket and evolving ideologies about healthy food and buying behaviors, the road ahead is full of opportunities. And working in fresh produce—it doesn’t get much better than this.