Branding debate: Farmers to stay calm, think carefully

New research shows the underdeveloped state of branding within the fresh produce industry and how commodity growers can make a larger profit by leveraging their authentic stories. Photo: RSA Group/Twitter

New research shows the underdeveloped state of branding within the fresh produce industry and how commodity growers can make a larger profit by leveraging their authentic stories. Photo: Supplied/RSA Group

A global debate on whether shoppers are willing to cough up more for branded fresh produce has South African food producers talking. While some farmers argue that it’s the way to go, experts warn that an own label and the associated marketing comes with enormous costs.

Key findings in an international report have revealed the underdeveloped state of branding within the fresh produce industry, showing how commodity growers can make a larger profit by leveraging their authentic stories.

According to the report, more than half of interviewed consumers find it important to shop specific brands in the produce department as opposed to non-branded products.

However, back in South Africa, fresh produce experts are not convinced.

Don’t spend willy-nilly

According to Lianne Jones, country manager for the Produce Marketing Association for Southern Africa, there is much for farmers to consider before going the branding route.

Branding and marketing, she points out, comes with a big cost. To launch a new brand or product may demand an investment of 12 to 15% of total sales for the first two to three years. On top of that, maintaining their market position will require continued investment from the brand owner.

Jones points out that the channels through which the farmer wishes to sell their product, must also be thought through. “The majority of the large grocery retailers sell fresh produce under their own brand and therefore a consumer brand is not required.

“I would also argue that selling into the fresh produce market dilutes your brand further as the recipients can range from food services and grocery retailers to spaza stores. [The product can] even travel over-border,” Jones says.  

Only when a farmer is focused on niche outlets, Jones believes it could be worth considering branding, if the farmer is willing to realise the returns. Quality, consistency and continuous supply is key.

Lianne Jones, Produce Marketing Association country manager for South Africa. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

“You need to aim to have the product [available] 12 months of the year – or at least a product offering in the brand that can be supplied 12 months of the year – to get maximum benefit from branding and marketing spend,” advises Jones.

She mentions some basics that farmers must first master before looking at a branding and marketing strategy.

“The focus should be on growing the right products for the market. Retailers are looking for small-scale growers who can supply something different. Do your research where the gaps and opportunities lie.”

Furthermore, farmers are advised to focus on quality, consistency and making sure that their supply chain is working well for them. “You can create stand-out from great packaging. Set up meetings with packaging companies and explore what is available.”

A brand that resonates with people

The international study also revealed that brands with an established story generate trust and engagement among consumers by having the ability to share their “truths”.

For Motlapele Morule, also known as Mo’Molemi, a South African motswako rapper-turned-farmer, branding his produce has been one of his greatest moves.

Motlapele Morule, also known as Mo’Molemi, is a South African motswako rapper who became a farmer. Photo: Supplied/Mo’ Molemi

The farmer from North West sells his produce under his brand name “Bakwild Fresh Produce”.

“I made this decision very early in my farming career to brand my products. I studied the retail [outlets], what was happening on the shelves, and the impact that brands like ZZ2, McCain, KOO and Clover had on consumer buying patterns,” Morule explains.

He adds, “I knew that it was not enough just to brand, but you have to build a brand [that resonates with] people.”

Bakwild Fresh Produce, Morule says, is 15 years in the making, yet still in its infancy compared to the competition on major retail shelves.

Last year Morule opened his very own fresh produce market, which stocks his branded produce.

“People [with whom] my music or my affiliation with motswako music [resonates] support my brand. Every day is geared towards building that support.”

ALSO READ: New farmers: How to find markets for your produce

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