Cornell’s Brad Rickard is among the brightest young scholars in the world of food and agriculture writing, researching and teaching today, so when we heard he was doing his sabbatical in France, it was an easy decision to try to woo him to The London Produce Show and Conference. After all his research and intellect have bedazzled audiences on both sides of the pond with presentations we memorialized in pieces such as these:
To find out what he has in store for us in London we asked Jodean Robbins, Contributing Editor at Pundit sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS to find out more:
Q: What will you be presenting at the London Produce Show and why is it compelling for attendees?
A: We have access to, and analysis of, new research examining consumer purchase trends for packaged fruits and vegetables. I will be discussing some of the results from this data and how it reveals the evolution of the packaged fruit and vegetable segment. There is definitely increasing interest in this particular segment of produce — both at retail and supply level. It’s a growing phenomena.
Yet, while we see growing interest in these products, we also see apprehension about how big or sustainable this segment could be. Is it still a growing trend or is it capping out? Not all consumers purchase these products. So our goal was to help identify who the consumers are and what the evolution of the demand is for these products.
Q: How are you actually able to identify this evolution?
A: We have access to a huge database from Nielsen that tracks household survey data as well as retail scanner data. This data is not publically available, but through an agreement Cornell has with the University of Chicago we now have access to both of these data segments from 2005 through 2015.
Many people are familiar with Nielsen’s retail scanner data, tracking what is sold through the store, but a unique component of this project is the household survey data that tracks what households are actually purchasing. It’s a lot of very interesting and powerful data. It allows us to explore pertinent questions about the packaged produce segment.
Q: What does the household survey actually cover?
A: The defining factor is that the produce item has a UPC code. The survey includes approximately 60,000 to 80,000 U.S. households. Some of these households have been in the survey the whole time, so we can track the same household for the entire 10 years to see how they change. But, we also have some matching procedures to be able to match similar households that have been in the survey during different timeframes. The bottom line is it gives us unprecedented access to this type of information about what households are buying over a ten-year period.
Q: What does all this data translate into from an industry perspective?
A: We’re trying to offer answers to top-of-mind questions people are asking today as well as provoke thinking for the future — both for companies who are already doing packaged fruits and vegetables and for those who are thinking of getting into it. We are looking at who is buying what, where are they located, what type of consumer they are. Our primary interest is in how consumers and purchasing of these products are evolving and what that might indicate for the future of this segment.
Q: What will you specifically be talking about in London?
A: At the show, I’ll be looking at three different angles. First is Quantity — looking at how the quantity of these items is trending over the time period and how that reflects the overall trend in packaged produce. I’ll present data on the types of households and the quantity of packaged produce they’re purchasing including total quantity, quantity as a share of total grocery spending, and as a share of fresh food products.
We will look at this from different perspectives, including how it changes over time and how it changes among households of different geographic locations or socio-economic groups. The data provides a lot of other information about these participating households, including income, education, how many TVs they have, and age of children, so we can run different data sets to look for specific trends and demographics.
The data can be broken down into categories as well, for example, citrus, stone fruits, or leafy greens, so we can also look at commodity-specific trends — as long as it was sold via a UPC.
Q: Is this quantity-focus the bulk of your presentation?
A: No, we will also be looking at Value and Diversity. We will explore the value of this segment over different geographic locations and other demographic factors. The data sometimes tells a different story of how value changes that isn’t always captured when looking at quantity. The third focus, Diversity, may be the most interesting and useful part of this entire exercise.
Q: What do you mean by diversity and why do you consider it so useful?
A: By diversity, we mean the variety of products households are buying within this packaged produce category. We look within the consumers’ basket to determine how much diversity or breadth we see them consuming. We want to know how curious consumers are about these products. Are they buying just one bagged salad and sticking with that? Or are they starting with one and then expanding into other products or presentations?
Q: So, it’s about determining if consumers are growing or evolving with these products?
A: Yes, we want to see how this trend changes over time and where the nucleus of the activity is. Which households have the greatest diversity patterns and which have the propensity to increase their diversity over time? Who are the people most likely to broaden their packaged produce basket? Where is it starting and how is it growing? The focus is on the evolution of the customers and their demand for products. We want to determine if someone at the start of their shopping experience is more exploratory — maybe someone who is younger and starting the shopping career versus an older more established consumer. What is the difference in their behaviors?
Q: Will this be academic number-crunching or is it a more real-world presentation?
A: This very compelling data set allows us to say some very interesting things about the trends the data implies. There is some very practical immediate-use information we will share. However, there is also a lot of information that will help companies set up strategies for the future. This presentation will be especially useful for people looking at how they grow strategically in this industry.
Brad Rickard is the Ruth and William Morgan Associate Professor of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. He grew up on a 1200-acre family farm in Canada that produced apples and processing vegetables.
His teaching and research focus in on the economic implications of policies, innovation, and industry-led initiatives in food and beverage markets. Results from his research have been highlighted by various media outlets, including Buffalo News, The Economist, Freakonomics.com, National Public Radio, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and Wine Spectator, Professor Rickard is currently a visiting scholar for the 2016-17 academic year at KEDGE Business School in Bordeaux, France.
The issue of packaging and produce is an especially important one for an American speaking in London. At the major chains in the UK, almost all produce is packaged. In America, though packaging is increasing in usage, most produce is still displayed in bulk, farmstand style.
From the opportunity for branding to the sanitary nature of it, the advantages of packaging are clear. Yet the bulk farmstead-style display has its appeal.
What ways can packaging best be used whole the department still avoidslosing its fresh appeal. We know in the short term at least that consumers tend to look for what they are familiar with, sowhen Tesco came to America as Fresh & Easy, its produce packaging was not successful. Consumers objected on environmental grounds and the compulsion to buy minimum quantities — but, mostly, to an American, it just didn’t look fresh.
Would British consumers buy more fresh produce long term if it was sold bulk? Would Americans buy more if they got used to packaging? Can brands such as Driscoll’s be built on the ubiquity of their clamshells? Come see Professor Rickard at The London Produce Show and Conference and join the spirited discussion on matters such as these and learn from new research that points to new answers.
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