Published on: July 18, 2016
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Hi, Kevin Coupe here, and this is a special Monday morning FaceTime with the Content Guy ... I'm glad to be back from vacation, and I'm happy to be reporting it from last week's extraordinarily robust and successful Organic Produce Summit in Monterey, California - the first of what I expect will be a continuing series of annual events focusing on this important and growing category.
The basic facts of the organic produce category are impressive - Laura Batcha, CEO of the Organic Trade Association (OTA) noted that organic produce represents close to a third of all organic sales, which were up $11 billion last year to more than $43 billion. More than half of all American households purchased organic produce last year, and 13 percent of all produce sold is organic - signaling a kind of mainstreaming of the category.
Mark Bittman, the cookbook author and former food columnist with the New York Times, did one of the keynote addresses, suggesting that while organic food is an important category, it seems to him that the bigger story - and, in a way, a simpler story to tell - is that "real food" is better than hyper-processed food. If it can be organic, he said, so much the better. If it can be local, even better. But he suggested the most important thing thing that retailers and suppliers can do is facilitate a national shift toward real, unprocessed food that will lead to a healthier consumer and nation. That's a story the industry needs to tell.
Now, I'm not sure that anyone would disagree with that essential premise. I know I wouldn't.
But Bittman also noted that one of the things about real food is that it can be more expensive ... and that runs contrary to Americans' priorities. He did a quick poll of the audience, and quickly ascertained that nobody in the room believed that food was either too costly or priced just right - pretty much everyone believed that food is too cheap, and Bittman agreed, noting that especially as labor costs increase, the cost of food is going to get higher, not lower.
This is, of course, a tough argument to make when many American consumers find it hard to resist the siren call of a cheap fast food hamburger that is certainly cheap and usually fast ... even if it has very little to do with being food.
The dichotomy is striking, and illustrates why the industry needs to create a compelling narrative about why real food is really important.
A luncheon conversation with Bittman, ironically, illustrated the degree to which this story can be effective. He talked about his career as a writer, saying that he couldn't get any sort of traction or sell many pieces at all until he started writing about food - and then, everything clicked.
It also can click for the food industry, if it is willing to make the effort.
The importance of narrative also was highlighted earlier in the day during a panel discussion that I moderated on the subject of organic produce and e-commerce, featuring Tony Stallone, vice president of merchandising for Peapod; Mike Burrington, director of fulfillment services with IdeoClick and one of the original staffers during AmazonFresh's early days; and Thaddeus Barsotti, chief farmer and co-CEO with Farm Fresh To You, which offers online subscription produce services for consumers. During the session, it became very clear that one of the things that e-commerce allows marketers to do better is to understand the shopper's story - using data and algorithms to analyze and respond to consumer needs and wants.
It is very simple, they agreed - the best and most effective marketers in this segment of the business will be the ones that turn data into a story.
I couldn't agree more.
That's what is on my mind this Monday morning. I'm glad to be back, and as always, I want to hear what is on your mind.
- KC's View: