Archive for June 2010


Advertising fruit and vegetables – Clueless in digital space

It was 7.40 pm y’day. My Nokia was about to buzz and push a short message (sms) from a prominent Delhi fresh produce retailer announcing prices for important fruit vegetables.

Behold – the message arrived with a celestial certainty. This has been a 7.40 pm ritual for a while. And I am beginning to relish it – not because I shall go run and hunt bargain but because it has given me some food, or shall I say some f+v for thought.

You may say fresh produce retail and this particular retailer has come of digital age in India. Not the least – this sms strategy could have been a smart idea had it marched past my critical mind. Many questions were hammering my mind since the day I got first message.

Q1 – Why this message at 7.40 pm when the retailer has the least stock and most of the display has already gone awry under discerning customers’ hands. A relook at the message corrected my oversight – the message was meant for next day.

Q2 – Why this message is being sent to me – not to my wife who is not a regular but sometime buys from this retailer during stock-out situation. She could have been a smart target for such a message.

Q3 – Where from this retailer got my mobile number. It could not be from a loyalty card info I passed to them as this retailer has never run such a program. Despite being the largest fresh produce retailer with widest reach in Delhi and surrounding region they have never tried (or shall I say cared) to build such a customer database. (In fact this retailer does not pick the point of scale customer data as all POS scales are stand-alone equipment -not linked with their central server).

More on this in store next day – Many of rates mentioned in the message didn’t match the rates at my neighborhood store. As I was aware that at this retailer all stores were grouped to location specific demographic profile – I check another store – same story – few rates did not match.

Some inferences are very obvious – like

  • My cell number was randomly picked from either my service provider – who sold it without my consent or some scammer picked my number from either Internet or elsewhere and sold to company as a prospective customer. Either way – SMS did not come to me as a well thought of strategy
  • Someone at the company did not either care to proofread the messages or do the pricing as per sent messages. Will it affect sale – Obviously a customer will feel cheated if actual prices are more and if lesser than s(he) will never bother to read the message. Counterproductive either way.
  • My biggest worry was some competitor picking up this retailer’s next day prices and improving same at their own stores in this retailer’s vicinity. In fact I used this tactics many year’s back for one of the early organized retailer in Delhi. But at that time I had to depute a person during every night and use social engineering to get insider price advantage. If with crude network I was able to do change prices twice daily at 20 odd competing stores, now with sophisticated software and bandwidth, changing prices at a store, any time of the day, is a cake walk.

Technology can be counterproductive if not used in a right way without applying mind.

Fresh – Dump or Out of stock!

Fresh produce retail is a fascinating subject.

Last evening at a wet market, I witnessed an elderly woman repeatedly fingering mangoes to decide whether to buy or not. May be she wanted to know how long the fruit shall stay good or are the mangoes ripe enough to be consumed immediately or she’ll have to wait; if yes, how long she and her family will have to wait.

While these questions are legitimate, the fresh produce retailer may not have the right answers. And this difficulty in finding the right answers is what makes fresh produce retail a fascinating subject.

The concept of ‘Fresh’ itself is enchanting. By the way – what is considered ‘Fresh’ in retail? Does a common theme or thread binds ‘Fresh’?

To a front end retailer, ‘Fresh’ is a product category whose value decrease due to quality loss which result in price reductions (impacts revenue), or even result in products being thrown or blown away (Dump & Shrink), a challenge he daily faces while trying to balance overstocks and stock-outs by attempting correct indenting as far as possible.

Retailer also knows that if product waste in a retail outlet is too low, this could signify a risk of empty shelves or his inability to offer fresh products to his customers (little sales due to stocking of stale and dying products). He also knows in heart of hearts that presence of Fresh” is a major customer footfall driver for his store – day in and day out.

While retailer’s ‘Fresh’ is a struggle balancing Inventory – Profits – Footfalls – Shrink – Revenue – FIFO – FEFO – LIFO, buyers ‘Fresh’ is a constant conflict (quite often compromise) between purchasing indented quantities of products with ever changing quality at the lowest prices.

From logistics perspective, ‘Fresh’ is ‘Perishability’, to be delivered fastest to store shelves in right environment. Product has to be quickly out of their custody (inventory) without loss and value.

‘Fresh’ connotes “Quality” to customers with all its finer nuances, contexts and equations. Period!

In such a scenario, can we help that old women find right answers, while making the work of the fresh produce purchaser, logistics operator and retailer lesser complex?

My bets are once again placed on technology led zero defect fresh produce production and shelf life modeling techniques. That is the only economical way to achieve uniform and precise products in the first place. “Quality is Free” here. Vegetopia, some will say.

Fresh produce traders in India have a saying, “all fingers are not equal” when pushing non standardized products to customers.

For situation like either innovative (but costly) machines like ripeness, color and weight specific sorter graders or plain vanilla sorting / grading by human hands comes to rescue.

Here Quality, sorry ‘Fresh’ comes at a Cost, quite often a considerable cost.

The choice is ours!


Some pictures subtly conceal their real meaning and purpose.

Inspired by brilliant pictures of fauna and flora at “Life” series presently on air at Discovery Channel, these pictures collection is an effort to find art at unlikely place – DISEASE.

These pictures have been culled from an archive of a plant pathologist team mate who has painstakingly built this collection  from assorted resources for a technical presentation. Pictures represent some common insect, pests and diseases of fruit and vegetables.

Fruit & Vegetables – Handling & Visual Merchandising – Lessons from Indian streets

Street vendors enliven the pedestrian environment by providing convenience and a diversity of products at affordable prices. They lend charm, vitality and diversity to an active urban environment. Street vendors also have many tips and tricks for organized retailers who are yet to hard wire product physiology of fruit and vegetables in their retailing ethos.

Click flowing links to see some live action from Delhi streets.

Branding of fruit and vegetables – Part 2

No doubt branding can be an important source of information in consumer decision making in the context of fresh fruit and vegetable marketing.

Consumers often pay more for a product that they associate with high quality and dependability. They value the freedom of choice from among the many offerings in any given product category, and branding makes these twin objectives possible, thereby creating an additional value for the grower and retailer alike.

Branding is now so general, that it is difficult to separate its benefits for fresh produce retailers. As with other products:

Branding can assist an organization in obtaining a significant share of the market for its product. Once a product becomes established, a well-known brand name can help it retain its position. Branding enables a company to charge more or less money for a product than its competitors. Branding can help introduce a product – one of the factors that often entice consumers into using a new product is an appealing product name. Promotional campaigns are usually more effective and less expensive when a brand name is firmly ingrained in the consumer’s mind.

But again the question was – branding of fruit and vegetables in India

I’ve been a little harsh in my earlier post while noting that branding without achieving a basic standardised product may a far away milestone for a country like India. Basic quality is a pre-requisite. However, on hindsight, I see a ray of hope at the end of fresh tunnel with couple of strategies to achieve the desired goal.

Two strategies, perhaps running in conjunction with each other, if implemented by various stakeholders, may help build great F&V brands, even in India.

1. Raise product quality through mistake proofing a.k.a ZERO DEFECT (ZD) concept.

2. Innovate – innovative products are usually heralded by a new name, a brand

Quality – Presently, rigorous Sorting / grading of fruit and vegetables on size and defects with acceptable tolerances is the only mean deployed to achieve a semblance of quality in fruit and vegetable. No issues here except – additional handlings add to excessive lead times, product exposure and cost loads. But in a scenario with huge individual product variance within a lot, sorting / grading and resorting is mostly counterproductive. Products that should have been there at the shelves today for sale rot at warehouses waiting to sorted / graded.

Introduce Zero defect – Concept is so simple one hardly notice, thereby difficult to implement. Ironical! Like one can’t spot a tree in a forest. The ZD mantra is, “Do it right the first time.” Zero defect (ZD) is probably the simplest, most effective quality management concept ever conceived. Zero defect always works and it can’t fail.

How does ZD work for mundane daily use food commodities like fruit and vegetables? Let’s take a following real life case study (author was part of this project) for a staple vegetable, potato. What are the common quality defects in potatoes? Let’s list out the major ones:

· Size variation – Undersize, Oversize (45-65 mm diameter is most preferred by housewives in Indian sub-continent)

· Green tubers

· Black Scurf, Scab

· Surface cracking

· Cut and rotten tubers

Believe me, all these defects were predominantly eliminated in the production phase itself by implementing zero defect.

Right size of seed, right sowing depth / distance, proper seed treatment (to prevent scourge like scab), right bed size (to prevent growing potatoes from exposure of sunlight that turns potatoes green) and application of fertilizers, irrigation when and where required, prevents these defects from happening obliterating the need for rigorous and wasteful sorting / grading. Productivity from the same fields improved significantly with improvement in quality. In short quality was born.

Quality is free – only one has to apply mind, thought and knowledge. ZD can be implemented at all places for all products.

All this is not theory. There are islands of such hope across the subcontinent. What is required is to build a mainland, at least for few commodities, before we start thinking of building brand for F&Vs in India.

Innovation – That is a bit simple and straight forward. From growers, wholesalers and retailers perspective, branding strategies revolve around ensuring that a brand name will stick in consumers’ minds. To achieve this marketing goal, they consider fresh produce branding in the context of market segmentation and promotional strategy, developing brand names that help promote a unique image and character that may allow for price differentiation.

Again humble potato comes to my mind. At one of the company I worked for, we introduced CIPC treatment for potatoes during storage for the first time in India. To cut the story short – treatment of potatoes with CIPC (a sprout inhibitor chemical) let one store potato in cold store at comparatively higher temperature which in turn allows potatoes to remain lesser sweet than the non treated cold storage potatoes.

Another company built a brand out of these CIPC treated potatoes. What is a common place storage process across the World became Sugar-free or Low sugar potatoes in India and Orja (and many clones now), became Low Sugar potato brands. Orja commands a better price even though it comes from the same fields in Punjab or Agra. Same success can be repeated for say, with mangoes ripened without use of hazardous chemicals or banana ripened with modern cold storage technology. Innovation has no limits.