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Promotional Optimization
Used To Ramp Up Produce Sales…
At The Amsterdam Produce Show And Conference, Professor John Stanton Will Reveal Techniques From Grocery That Can Boost Produce Sales

It was the very first edition of The New York Produce Show and Conference, and we had announced in this piece that John Stanton would be speaking. The accolades began to fall in, including one from Jim Allen, President of the New York Apple Association, Inc.

Jim is going to be present at The Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference in his capacity as vice chair of US Apple Export Council, which is exhibiting.

Jim also is going to be retiring, and the Amsterdam show is his final overseas foray before his retirement. But, back in his salad days, he sent us this note about John Stanton and the broader educational concept we had developed:

With great excitement and anticipation, I await The New York Produce Show and Conference and the presentation on Local Preference Versus Organic, by Dr. Stanton.

John Stanton, undoubtedly in my book, is one of the best, if not the best authority on consumer behavior when it comes to purchasing foods and produce.

He continues to “Delight” his audiences with thought-provoking data, information and advice on how to reach consumers in a way that will influence their purchase decisions. Time after time, Dr. Stanton has identified consumer traits that if properly applied in marketing, will end in success!

His presence, along with the other outstanding presenters at the New York Produce Show, is certainly worth the registration fee alone, while the excitement of the show will be a bonus!

— Jim Allen
New York Apple Association, Inc.
Fishers, New York

Jim was right about John Stanton, and Professor Stanton has often delighted audiences at our events, with presentations we memorialized in pieces such as this:

Branding And In-Store Marketing: Perfect Together… St. Joseph’s Superstar Professor John Stanton To Present At London Produce Show And Conference 

Bringing Produce To New Markets: Opportunities And Obstacles In The New Retail Environment…St. Joseph Food Marketing Guru John Stanton Gives Featured Presentation At The New York Produce Show And Conference

WHAT IS IN A LABEL? Does Promoting No-GMOs Impact Perception Of The Rest Of The Department? Would A Positive Message Smell As Sweet? St. Joe’s John Stanton To Address The London Produce Show And Conference

Research To Be Unveiled At The New York Produce Show And Conference Shows ‘Local’ Preference Versus Organic

Now Professor Stanton has agreed to bring his insight to the very heart of the European produce trade, to The Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference. We asked John Aiello, Contributing Editor at Pundit sister publication PRODUCE BUSINESS, to see if he could get some insight into what Professor Stanton intends to present:

Dr. John Stanton
Professor and Chairman
Food Marketing Department
Saint Joseph’s University
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Q: How long have you been in food marketing and what drew you to this area of study?

A: I have been in food marketing for 42 years. I attended Syracuse University and eventually obtained my PhD. And by chance, as a newly minted PhD, I got the opportunity to do some consulting for Campbell Soup. The project lasted 13 years. I was in a Consumers Insights Group while at Campbell, working on a variety of things.

Q: Can you give me a brief overview of the topic you will cover at the Amsterdam Produce Show in November?

A: The topic I am going to present will be “Taking Advantage of Promotional Optimization In The Fresh Food Industry.” While big companies selling consumer products have utilized these analytical techniques, the produce and fresh food industry has lagged behind in applying them. One of the purposes of my speech in Amsterdam will be to look at the advantages of Promotional Optimization and then demonstrate how these methods can be applied to the produce industry.

Q: What does Promotional Optimization actually entail?

A: Promotional Optimization uses data and analytics to determine the most effective and efficient ways to promote products in retail stores. In more simple terms, it can be defined as promotion that primarily takes place in-store. As I said, most of the big companies selling consumer products utilize these analytics to look at things like how to lower price and how to effectively use coupons. But the produce industry hasn’t used these promotional methods. Basically, the produce industry has said, “How much lettuce do you want to buy? Here’s the price.”

Q: Why has there been such a chasm between how the consumer products and produce industries approach this question?

A: Traditionally, the companies that sell packaged food have relied heavily on promotions to sell their products. And now they rely on Promotional Optimization techniques. But the produce business has not used much promotion. I think the reason they have relied less on promotion is because the origin of the product is fresh, not packaged. Nonetheless, these big companies show that Promotional Optimization techniques work, because they’re making more money using them than if they weren’t using them.

Q: So if I understand you correctly, these techniques work best for foods that are in a pre-packaged form?

A: That’s right. In the past, with produce, producers didn’t believe they needed promotion. [Their position was that] people know what an apple is. Either you want to buy it or you don’t. But the further processed the produce (things like pre-packaged salad and pre-cut fruit), the more need there is for some level of promotion. And that’s the point you should use the modern techniques of Promotional Optimization so you don’t waste money with your promotional campaigns. 

Q: What would be the optimal way to apply these techniques to the produce industry?

A: To take a prepared, pre-packaged produce product and then emulate what Kellogg does to promote kids’ cereals. I can actually give you a good example. Most people like to cook at home. But they don’t really want to spend time chopping ingredients.

They might like to cook, but they hate the work. No problem. You can buy a pre-packaged combination of chopped onion and garlic and other basics that can be used in a variety of dishes. It’s a fabulous product. But it’s not selling. It lacks the promotion to bring it to the attention of the consumer.

Q: What are two of the most effective ways to market produce or fresh consumables?

A: The one thing that never changes is that taste is the single most important characteristic to the consumers. If something doesn’t taste good, they won’t buy it. Following this, sampling is probably the most effective tool to use. It gives people the chance to taste the food and decide if they like it. The downside is that it is expensive to do this. But make no mistake – taste is king.

Second, you have to draw people’s attention to a product. Tell them it’s there. Tell them how good it is. And tell them with some level of excitement and with some adjective that describes what you are selling and how proud you are of your product.

Q: How has the emergence of online retailers such as Amazon Fresh changed the way fresh fruits and vegetables are marketed?

A: As far as the produce companies are concerned, they don’t care if a product sells at Safeway or Amazon. They don’t really care where the consumer buys it, as long as they buy it. When food first went on sale online, I didn’t think fresh food would sell there.

The reason was people want to see their meat and fruit before they buy it. But that was actually false. For example, young people coming into the market don’t know what a good or bad cantaloupe is. For the most part, they haven’t been exposed to learning what to look for when you’re buying that cantaloupe.

So they turn to Amazon, thinking that their pickers know better than they do in looking for in a good cantaloupe. I think the online fresh market is only going to grow because millennials go to the computer when they want to buy something. They have a habit of going to Amazon. They’re “Digital Natives.” It’s who they are.

Q: Do marketing campaigns and statements made on packages really affect the shopper’s decision to buy an item or pass on it? And is the ultimate goal of a product label to call attention to the product or to convey information?

A: I think labels on packages are extremely effective. In effect, it’s your last salesperson. But for the most part, packages are not used that way. They have traditionally been used to communicate boring information as opposed to creating excitement.

But this is changing in the prepared food industry, as companies see the value of using labels to promote and call attention to products. Think about it: If you’re buying spaghetti sauce and one label has a nice picture of an Italian countryside and maybe with a glass of red wine on the table, it makes you visualize. And pretty soon you want an Italian dinner.

Q: How does the constant barrage of scientific data that’s out there — these reports talking about things like diabetes, cholesterol and obesity — ultimately affect food marketing strategies?

A: We just want to feed the beast. Whatever you say you want to buy, we’ll make it and sell it. If people think kale is better to eat, we’ll have no position if it is or it isn’t. We’ll simply grow more kale and let you buy more.

Q: You have written a great deal about customer service in your career. How can companies better employ customer service to enhance a brand and create a bond with the shopper?

A: Most customer service has to be delivered at the retail level where the customer is. The distribution level is less involved in it. But the answer is: Be pro-active in customer service! Don’t just sit and wait to solve problems. Be pro-active. And don’t let the problems happen in the first place.

Q: Is there a certain demographic or target-market produce retailers are after?

A: It’s the group of people that has a pulse and a penny. It’s everybody. One advantage that the produce industry has enjoyed is that it hasn’t had a problem with social media attacking it. The industry isn’t selling hot dogs. It’s selling tomatoes and apples and other wonderful things. Things that are good for everybody.


The question of how the industry can most effectively increase movement of produce is an interesting one, and exploring the way changes in presentation, such as packaging, can impact these opportunities is important. Indeed, we have had Lisa Cork lay out some of the ways packaging can impact sales in presentations we previewed with pieces such as these:

Lisa Cork To Address London Produce Show And Conference: Packaging As A Marketing Tool

Fresh Produce Marketing: The Real Deal

Promotional Optimization involves a lot more than packaging; it is an application of science to decisions, such as pricing, often made based on gut feel.

What price level, for example, will maximize gross profit dollars?

If you are going to do demos, what mix of stores and shopping dates optimizes sales?

All too often, produce is merchandised and marketed based on what someone was taught by his or her first boss 30 years ago — despite the fact that we have no reason to believe that approach produces optimal results.

Professor Stanton is coming to the Netherlands to speak about how the industry can professionalize and use better techniques to move toward optimal results.

Come and be part of the conversation. Come to The Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference, where “The more you know, the more you’ll grow.”

You can register right here.

Hotel rooms in the headquarters hotel are available here.

Take a look at the Pundit piece introducing the event here.

The brochure is here.

And you can check out the website here.

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