Photo: Bowery Farming

As the demand for fresh produce increases, so does the pressure for quality texture, color and flavor. In May, Bowery Farming, the East Coast-based modern farming company, announced its newest leafy green launch that appeals to just that.

Bowery Crispy Leaf Lettuce is described as a “reinvigorated version” of iceberg lettuce with an “unparalleled flavor” and “bold color and satisfying crunch.”

The release is Bowery’s largest product since 2015 and according to Carmela Cugini, executive vice president of sales, “Crispy Leaf is one of the most in-demand leafy greens from Bowery based on current retailer orders.”

Why has it been such a success? The Bowery team credits sales to the unique sensory experience consumers receive through its visually stimulating marketing program. Cugini also says that feedback from buyers suggest that the sensory experience “is poised to change the way consumers interact with lettuce.”

By accentuating the sensory aspect of Crispy Leaf, especially flavor, Bowery has appealed to consumers in a multidimensional way. Cugini believes this will become a common and essential strategy at Bowery.

“We’re investing in sensory experiences as a key marketing strategy because we see it as the best avenue for marketing in the current climate,” she says.

The climate Cugini refers to is the COVID-created stay-at-home orders surrounding the pandemic. Because of this, more families are eating at home and are looking for “new recipes, ideas and ways to bring health into their world.”

Cugini aims to maintain that and drive growth by establishing a connection to the consumer through sensory interaction. One way of doing that, she says, is by working with retailers to connect the dots on how to drive repeat consumers.

“The fresh category is the No. 1 category in produce that drives repeat and loyalty. If you can get great produce and it’s consistent and it’s fresh and consumers can rely on it, they will come back to you,” she says. “That is one of the things we think about when we launch products. We want to make sure we put flavor back into produce in a way that you don’t need dressing to cover up the flavor.”

Cultivating the experience

When Crispy Leaf was first developed, Cugini says it was founded on consumer insights. While iceberg lettuce is one of the fastest growing segments in produce, Cugini says no one was providing the sensory experience. That was, until Bowery created a product “that allows consumers to taste something they’ve never tasted before.”

One consumer insight that helped form Crispy Leaf was the crunch craze. According to Cugini, “crispy is a whole thing that’s trending,” which Bowery took into consideration. The company combined that with freshness, intensity and flavor and incorporated those into its sensory-based marketing tactic.

The crunch and flavor that's packed into Crispy Leaf appeals to consumers' senses, which results in its high demand.
Photo: Bowery Farming

Virtual visualizations

Before the pandemic, Cugini says Bowery offered in-store demos to consumers. But like most companies, COVID-19 prompted them to reimagine their strategy. According to her, 22% of people that typically shop in grocery stores are now buying their groceries online, and nine out of 10 of those individuals will stick to online grocery shopping.

This encouraged Bowery’s visual approach, which conveys the sensory experience across all platforms through the use of colors, images and lexicon.

In fact, Bowery’s production and innovation team held a virtual sensory evaluation — Bowery’s United Fresh Sensory Experience — that took attendees on a tour of the sensory naming process. Moderators explained the importance of proper lexicon that effectively portrays what consumers will taste and feel.

According to the tour, there are four key areas of sensory: color, aroma, texture and taste. There are basic “consumer terms” that most shoppers are familiar with and “sensory terms” that properly describe the feeling a product gives. For example, the consumer term for the color yellow is just that, yellow. But the sensory terms surrounding color are “chroma” and “color intensity,” which translates to “the purity or brightness of color,” and “the strength of the color from light to dark.” Another comparison are the consumer terms “juicy” and “chewy.” In sensory terms, those translate to “high moisture release” and “low fibrousness between teeth.”

Cugini says understanding lexicon is important when marketing flavor and creating a shared experience. “Two people may use different words to describe the same experience or vice versa,” she says, “and language becomes the thing that is standing in the way of a shared culinary experience.”

The main attraction

Since iceberg lettuce is a traditional offering, Bowery wanted to add innovation to the market and rethink salad as a whole.

“Unlike the iceberg head that you might have had at your grandmother’s house, or you might have at a restaurant when they chop it in half, it’s a different experience when you eat it,” Cugini says. “We wanted to prove time and time again, that Bowery can create super fresh, flavorful food. By creating this really unique flavor, we hope that consumers will start to see that lettuce is more than just a side and it can actually be the star of the show.”

Bowery Farming has two farms in Kearny, New Jersey, and a third in White Marsh, Maryland. Crispy Leaf is locally grown with no pesticides — like all of its products — and is available at more than 250 grocery stores and markets in the Tri-State and Mid-Atlantic region. It is also sold through their partners, Amazon Fresh, Peapod and Hungryroot.

Given Bowery’s sensory-based marketing and experience, Cugini is confident in consumer retention and reach.

“If we can educate consumers on the type of produce they buy — and why they buy it — we are confident that they will be repeat Bowery customers. This education starts with defining the sensory experience and ends with the consumer trying the produce at home and imagining their own culinary journey. “