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.