Consumer knowledge ensures value growth in fresh produce category

Stimulating growth by inspiring shoppers. Growers cooperative Growers United looks at, and responds to, what the consumer wants in order to increase value within the fresh produce category.

Good food from a trustworthy source. Cultivated by over forty growers united in a cooperative. Family businesses with many years of experience and thus the necessary crop knowledge. Amongst other things, the cooperative organises sales and monitors the quality of the vegetables. Working together, being transparent with service providers and retail, all with the common goal of providing consumers with the tastiest and healthiest fruit vegetables. That is Growers United.

The range offered by Growers United consists of fruit vegetables cultivated in greenhouses in the Netherlands and originating from a partnership with Moroccan and Spanish growers. Tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet peppers and aubergines, with a range of varieties of each kind being grown on an area that now covers approximately six hundred hectares in the Netherlands. When it was set up in 2013, the cooperative initially had 270 hectares of land. Since then, it has undergone considerable growth. And if it is up to Commercial Director Perry Dekkers, Growers United will continue to grow in the next few years; here, he is referring to value growth of the category rather than expansion of the number of hectares.

Building value in fresh produce
Reasoning from the consumer’s point of view is essential for value growth, according to Growers United’s vision. “Our mission is for every type of consumer to be able to enjoy healthy, trustworthy and delicious fruit vegetables every day, at various times throughout the day. The fact is that the average consumer does not eat the recommended 250 grams of vegetables per day but a mere 131 grams. If consumers purchase more vegetables, this is good for both us and our partners: argues Dekkers. “Knowledge of the shopper is key. This is why Growers United invests in shopper surveys. In order to realise value growth, you have to align your product to the consumer. That’s the challenge we share.”

Shopper survey
Research carried out among shoppers in the Netherlands has shown, for example, that the pointed sweet pepper is hardly ever included on shopping lists. “The product is still too unknown. Therefore, Growers United is committed to informing and inspiring through influencer campaigns, recipe boxes featuring pointed sweet peppers and promoting the pointed sweet pepper as a quick snack.” And then there’s the aubergine. Research carried out by Growers United in the Netherlands has shown that with a penetration of 21 percent in 2018, the vegetable is still not really known by the general public. “People don’t know what they can do with an aubergine or how to use it. So, we have set up inspiration campaigns together with our customers. In shops too, with the aubergine as a meat substitute and delicious alternative on the barbecue. It’s working! Partly because of this, the penetration rate rose to 26 percent in 2020.” But there are also opportunities for value growth with the more familiar vegetables. That is why Growers United launched its Tomato Times campaign to introduce the public to other meal and snack ideas with tomatoes. Informing, inspiring and activating. Aligning with trends and responding to different uses for the product. Growers United wants to achieve value growth by basing their thinking on the consumer perspective. Not on its own but indeed in collaboration with retail and service providers.

“85% of sales go to food retail. We deliver throughout Europe. In terms of tomatoes and aubergines, we are even the market leader, serving around 35 million consumers per week in total,” says Dekkers. Growers United operates on a B2B basis and delivers to retail, via service providers. But there are also direct lines from Growers United to retail. A three-way collaboration focused on transparency. “We enter into partnerships. On the one hand with growers whose vegetables we market. On the other hand, as a producer organisation, we work together with service providers. They ensure that the vegetables get to the stores as quickly and freshly as possible. Retailers have knowledge of their own shoppers and know how to entice them to purchase a product. But they also call us for advice on the range, shelf arrangement or presentation. We invest in knowledge of the source via the growers and knowledge of the shoppers by means of consumer research. Results of our research may lead to recommendations for different packaging, other concepts and activities or promotions. We have a common goal: to get the consumer to buy fresh fruit vegetables more often.”

Good food is our foundation
For the consumer, Growers United is the source of trustworthy vegetables, first and foremost. And the cooperative continues to evolve in this role too. The slogan “Good food in good hands” does not simply come about by chance. Good food: Growers United supplies healthy and trustworthy products of a high quality. In good hands: fresh products from a caring source. Growers who are committed to reducing the environmental impact of their products (less impact); sustainable cultivation with a view to improving packaging and circular opportunities of waste streams (reduce waste) and, significantly, a desire to improve the health of consumers (healthy people). Dekkers: “Good food is our foundation. We want to enable consumers to enjoy healthy vegetables more often. To this end, we work with the service providers and retail and take the shopper as a starting point.”