When it's a SMITTEN™ apple! Amanda Griffiths looks at what it takes to brand fresh produce, and its place in the New Zealand market.

Branding of products is nothing new. So why don't we brand our fresh produce?  Sure, we've all eaten a BONITA™ banana and ZESPRI™ kiwifruit, but on the whole, fresh fruits and vegetables are generally sold without trade marks or brand names. Research has found that around 80% of all products sold are branded, but only about a third of all fresh produce has some form of branding. It's an opportunity too important to miss when you want to stand out in the marketplace.

Standing out in the produce section

For growers, creating a brand and building equity in that brand is vital. A brand easily conveys a message in terms of the product's quality and features such as the fact it is organic and spray-free. It can also evoke an emotional response from consumers, all of which can lead to brand loyalty and premium status and pricing.

This is important not just in the domestic market but in our export markets too. In countries like China and Japan, New Zealand fresh produce competes with fruit and veggies from other countries which can be produced at lower cost. To stand out from the crowd, value needs to be added through branding. That branding can play on the ideas of quality or origin. For example, in 2012, Chile, which is New Zealand's biggest competitor in the Asian fruit market, decided to focus on the idea of origin by consistently marketing all its fruit under the banner FRUITS FROM CHILE. This is a simple tactic that benefits growers, and consumers, because it easily identifies Chilean fruits.

Kiwi success stories

Today, ZESPRI™ has become a strong brand, but that wasn't always the case. In the 1990s, after years of poor sales and numerous small growers struggling to make an impact in the market, a joint marketing program was set up by New Zealand kiwifruit growers. The key  initiative of the group was to brand the kiwifruit as ZESPRI™ then register it as a trade mark. Now ZESPRI™ is one of the top fruit brands in the world, with kiwifruit sold in more than 53 countries including China, Japan and Taiwan. Zespri International Limited readily acknowledges that investing heavily in the brand ZESPRI™ and building brand awareness is one of the reasons it has such a strong reputation and secures maximum returns.

Another pioneer in the New Zealand fruit industry is Prevar Limited, a company which commercialises apple and pear varieties. We commonly know apples by their variety, for example, Gala, Braeburn, or Granny Smith. But Prevar has broken the mould by devising emotive names for new cultivars, and then registering those names as trade marks such as the SMITTEN™ apple, HONEYMOON™ apple and PIQA™ pear. Prevar then grants licences to grow, market and sell the cultivars under those trade marks.

Making fruit and vegetables cool

As seen with the Chilean marketing strategy for its fruit, it's not just individual fruits and veggies which can be branded. In the United States, a campaign called 'FNV', an acronym for 'fruits 'n' veges', was launched in February this year with a snazzy logo and celebrity ambassadors like Jessica Alba, Kristin Bell and Steven Curry to boot. The FNV campaign was announced by the 'Partnership for Healthier America' to promote healthy eating and living by making fruits and vegetables cool. The campaign is primarily run on social media but in the future will also include TV ads and print ads in supermarkets and on bus shelters.

Questions have been raised over whether it's really necessary to brand fruits and veggies as FNV in a world full of branded commodities. The president and CEO of Partnership for Healthier America, Lawrence A. Soler, says, 'FNV was inspired by big consumer brands, whose tactics are relentless, compelling, catchy and drive an emotional connection with their products. We want to do the same thing for fruits and veggies, which have never had an opportunity to act like a big brand until now'.

Time will tell if the FNV campaign will lead to any change in consumer habits, but we can watch this space and find out.

The way of the future?

Is the branding of fresh produce the next up and coming thing? In short, yes!  Branding needs to be a key strategy for those in the produce industry. It will enable New Zealand growers (whether singularly or collectively) to compete in overseas markets and get premium prices. Equally important, branding will help fruit and vegetables hold their own against the super-sized marketing of junk and processed foods.

Our view is that if Jessica Alba or a catchy name like SMITTEN™, with the even catchier tagline ONCE BITTEN FOREVER SMITTEN™, can coax consumers to eat more of the good stuff, then that's got to be a good thing!

An edited version of this article first appeared in the May/June 2015 issue of NZ Marketing magazine.