High Flavor, Organic, and Conventional

The Power of Words: A Q&A With Alexandra Rae Molumby, Marketing Manager, Bako Sweet®

The Power of Words: A Q&A With Alexandra Rae Molumby, Marketing Manager, Bako Sweet®

Produce has its own language.

The fact there are turns of phrase specific to this business is one of the first observations I communicate to new additions on our team, and it has been my privilege to learn to speak Produce well enough to write for those whose fluency is as deep as the roots they cultivate.

But I had rarely spared a thought to how this language might alienate the consumer for which the speakers of fresh produce provide for. Sitting down with Country Sweet Produce’s Marketing Manager, Alexandra Rae Molumby—Rae to her friends and colleagues—helped me understand there is a gap between how farmers talk about their crops and how consumers speak about their shopping lists. To close the gap could mean to close the sale as well.

Whether it is assisting with retailers’ merchandising strategies or ensuring the packages in the store speak to consumers on a more familiar level, the company’s Bako Sweet® brand is on a mission to make sure fresh produce does not get lost in translation.

Melissa De Leon Chavez: To start off, Rae, can you explain to me how Bako Sweet reevaluated consumer messaging and what impacts that had on the team’s strategy?

Alexandra Rae Molumby, Marketing Manager, Bako Sweet®: We realized having a high-quality, eye-catching product is a great strategy, but there are certain words that could be lost on consumers because not everyone speaks the farm language. For example, they might not know what a Covington sweet potato is, but they certainly know an orange sweet potato from a purple one. Embracing this drove us to redesign our steam bags to showcase our organic sweet potatoes in a bold new way with familiar, attention-grabbing terms to communicate not just the product’s attributes, but what it means to the consumer’s health to add them to their basket.

We rephrased the messaging in more consumer-friendly terms to make for a quick, easy read. There are three 14 oz steam bags, and each has a different organic variety: orange sweet potatoes, purple sweet potatoes, and white sweet potatoes. They make it easier than ever to cook a nutritious meal in minutes—no prep time, simply pop into the microwave and enjoy! Each package features “reci-tips” as well—recipe inspiration for appetite appeal—with a corresponding photo and nutritional call-outs to clearly communicate health benefits to the consumer and a colorful design for increased shelf visibility.

MDC: As someone who still stumbles when speaking Produce, this absolutely makes sense to me. In addition to consumer fluency on the packaging, what strategies is Bako Sweet implementing to ensure maximum merchandising opportunities at retail, and how does it alleviate work on the retailer’s side?

ARM: Bagged sweet potato sales make up 9.48 percent of total sweet potato sales*, meaning that there’s a lot of room for growth in the value-added category, and we are helping our retailer partners take advantage of this! Additionally, sales per million ($/MM ACV) was $741.10 higher for retailers who had at least 10 value-added SKUs in comparison to retailers with five value-added SKUs. With Thanksgiving practically around the corner in the U.S., buyers should take advantage of the seasonal push by making time-saving and value-added solutions easier for shoppers to find! We are prepared and ready to support retailers to increase their sales, especially because the numbers tell us that sweet potatoes can do that.

To assist retailers in increasing their sales, we are ready to work with them to create custom merchandising strategies to meet goals and solve existing challenges.

MDC: That is a good point and has me curious about breaking out of traditional molds. One thing Bako Sweet often emphasizes is how sweet potatoes are no longer strictly for the holiday season spread, and I’d love your insights on branching out while still bulking up for traditional dishes.

ARM: Definitely. Consumers stick with what they know. They can feel intimidated approaching our purple sweet potatoes even though they can be used similarly to an orange sweet potato. Making it more relatable to them, such as showcasing our in-house developed sweet potato recipes on-pack, has helped shoppers discover more uses for fresh produce and break the category out of its traditional seasonality. We are meeting customers where they are online by investing in social media influencers, targeted advertisements, sponsored posts, giveaways, and our new email newsletter. Bako Sweet is inspiring shoppers to explore new sweet potato recipes in addition to the familiar ones.

The twist now is that consumers are more inclined to cook with fresh instead of the canned produce that most Thanksgiving casserole dishes still suggest. With our new steam bags, all they have to do is pop them in the microwave and use fresh ingredients while still saving time in the kitchen!

Growing up, my mom used to make sweet potato casserole topped with marshmallows. The sweet potatoes were canned. That was the only experience I had with sweet potatoes. Now, I incorporate them into everything, and other consumers are doing the same—especially with organic options. They are a nutritious superfood, and there are so many new recipes for this delicious veggie. Once I realized that I could cut down prep time by microwaving them, I began to put them in chili, salads, or eat them for breakfast with a drizzle of almond butter!

MDC: Absolutely. Speaking to that last point, particularly organic, what has Bako Sweet uncovered about merchandising strengths and strategies in the past that has fueled this latest approach?

ARM: Total organic produce dollars increased by 9.3 percent in Q1 of 2021, and organic volume for March of 2021 increased by 5.7 percent, surpassing conventional**. Forty percent of consumers will move away from settling for basics per the Organic Trade Association, seeking out organic products across categories. For this reason, we emphasized “organic” clearly on our latest packaging.

Our bags can be displayed alongside the bulk sweet potato section of the produce department, but we see secondaries boost sales in the department, especially when it’s a bright and delicious display. The great thing about secondary displays is you can place them along with other items for that sweet potato casserole and other dishes to make it easy for shoppers to grab all their ingredients in one place. And beyond the seasonal pairing with marshmallows, brown sugar, and pecans, you could pair displays with the ingredients used in the recipes we suggest on our new steam bags, like green onions and cilantro. This new packaging and visual merchandising hit shelves early last month in Safeway and several other retail stores, and, so far, we’ve gotten great feedback from customers. They are all eager to get these eye-catching bags onto the shelves.

MDC: It sounds to me as though every piece of the puzzle is accounted for! With all this in place, where do you see the category going from here?

ARM: With a boosted focus on merchandising, working with retailers based on goals in their produce departments, as well as ensuring the category is more approachable by being consumer-friendly, everyone is set up to win. There is so much data supporting the rise of conveniently packaged products and how value-added makes for a great addition to the bulk display. Because of this, we have display bins ready to go and are prepared to take on any outlying challenges to serve as a strong partner to our retailers.

The final piece, I would say, is education, which we are working to tackle by providing the nutritional benefits of sweet potatoes on the front of our bags with consumer-related buzzwords.

When you walk down center store aisles, all these containers call out the nutrients and how they benefit the consumer’s health—which produce can, and should, more than match. Sweet potatoes are a nutritious superfood with twice the fiber of potatoes and 368 percent the daily value of vitamin A. Now, our new packaging tells shoppers that in a way they can see. Add in colors that pop—what stands out more than purple, green, and red?—and I see the trend for the category continuing up and up!

Language can be the lock or the key, reminding us that while bright points of color and visuals certainly have their place of importance, they can also distract from our simple code of communication. Simple does not mean easy, and it certainly does not mean insignificant. So, when it comes to all that is branding, Bako Sweet serves as a strong reminder that the time and money invested in a pack means little if the words written fall on eyes that are not uninterested, but unaware.