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When it comes to keeping up with trends, are you in the driver’s seat or a passenger hanging on for dear life? Reacting to trends in the marketplace can feel like riding a roller coaster. By the time you can tap into a new foodie trend with your produce, the trend may have already passed. So, what are produce growers to do? Acknowledge the current trends you must respond to but resolve to get behind the wheel to drive the future trends.

Taking an assertive approach to marketing and trend-making can be a tough order for many produce growers. You have plenty to do on your plate already. But in today’s market, there’s really no way around getting involved with direct marketing to your end consumer. Ultimately, you are in control of your brand perception, and you must find ways to differentiate your product to improve margins and net profit. Now’s a great time to dive into market trends to make sure you’re not missing out on key opportunities.

A place to start

A good place to start is an audit of what you are already growing, and how you’re growing it, to see what matches up with current growing trends. There are a few current trends that will most likely continue to be key factors for produce growers for many years to come. If you haven’t already responded to these growing trends, you still have time to leverage them and integrate the messaging into your marketing long-term:

  • Flavor; Consumers prioritize flavorful produce
  • Organically grown produce + “clean” ingredients
  • Food as medicine — health and wellness
  • Convenience — produce size and portions
  • Transparency + traceability
  • Locally grown food
  • Online ordering + home delivery

Using these key trends, you can make any changes needed to your processes or production. Then fine-tune your customer targeting and your brand messaging to help you stand out in your market — today, and in the future. With all produce growers adapting to these trends, the key for you will be to differentiate your produce from everyone else’s.

Less meat

Another important and growing trend is the reduction of meat in American and European diets. As more Americans either go meatless or reduce the amount of meat they eat, they’re turning to more creative uses for fresh produce. To keep up with these culinary trends, pay attention to popular diets, such as Keto or Paleo diets, but also many new emerging diet labels that guide consumers toward or away from specific produce.

Hyperlocal

Demand for fresh produce is growing and that’s a good thing. But increased demand will put strains on produce growers, especially in the form of both labor and trucking shortages. Hyperlocal food is already a growing trend with consumers, but a hyperlocal market may become much more of a necessity for growers. So why wait? Now is the time to invest in growing your local sales.

Going hyperlocal with your produce sales requires you to take a deep dive into your local market resources. How closely do you work with nearby chefs? Do you have any relationships with local foodies or influencers? Do you participate in, or run your own, local farmers market? What about local school food programs?

When it comes to local restaurants and chefs, they are looking for highly perishable produce they can get delivered in 24 hours or less. Farm-to-table freshness plus great flavor is the peak differentiator. Restaurants and chefs want growers they can rely on for consistent yet unique availability and quick turns.

Ultimately, you are in control of your brand perception, and you must find ways to differentiate your product to improve margins and net profit.

Seasonality

Growing under glass can also afford you the opportunity to offer availability of key produce year-round to your hyperlocal market. 365 availability will most likely become a bigger customer demand, if transport issues continue to be challenging. 365 availability can also be a huge differentiator for you as a grower.

Breeding

Produce consumers rarely know the difference between different varieties of fruit or vegetable. But they do know flavor, timing and convenience. Consumers who want these choices and improvements will continue putting market pressure on both breeders and growers. To stay on top of — or ahead of — flavor, size and convenience preferences, you need to monitor the market continuously. If you are breeding or working directly with breeders, make sure you’re tailoring for consumer preference — not just what you think is cool!

Respond faster

You might not be able to shift production or packaging quickly, but you can quickly pivot your content and market voice. If you’re investing in creating quality content around your product — which you should be — then you can at least respond quickly to changing trends on that front. Blog posts, recipes, social media engagement, and videos about your produce that incorporate a current or upcoming trend is a great way to stay relevant.

Stay ahead

Keeping up with and staying ahead of consumer trends will require you to get a little technical. Ever used Google Trends? If not, get online and search it now. You’ll see an application come up that allows you to enter keywords and phrases to track their search popularity by location. It’s quite fascinating. Also, set Google Alerts for specific keywords or phrases (including your company name and brands) to be sent to your inbox regularly. These alerts will keep you up to date on key trends and events that you may never know about otherwise.

Keeping up with — and driving — trends is certainly no easy task. To tackle it, think of your customer as your partner. Unless you know what they’re thinking and what’s important to them, it’s tough to have a successful relationship.

Leslie (CPH) owns Halleck Horticultural, LLC, through which she provides horticultural consulting, business and marketing strategy, product development and branding, and content creation for green industry companies. lesliehalleck.com