If millennials have a signature food, then surely avocados would be it. This boomer is still asking his daughter to explain “avocado toast” to him. But herein lies the opportunity, says Mission Produce head of marketing and communications Denise Junqueiro. Typically, brand differentiation at the apple or lettuce bin is a tough sell. Most of us grab what looks good.
Because produce is both perishable and unpackaged, its marketing challenge has been different from most grocery aisle CPGs. Encouraging category usage and raising all boats has been the common approach. But Mission Produce is a farm-to-grocery avocado brand that is both B2B and increasingly B2C. By focusing on creative product development, especially around millennial lifestyle needs, Mission is working a different lane of produce branding and trying to de-commoditize this trendy fruit. If, like me, avocado minis or even the prospect of avocado baby food sounds even zanier to you than avocado toast, think again, boomer.
MediaPost: Mission takes a different path from other brands we see in the avocado space. What is your approach to marketing a fruit most of us consider unbranded produce?
Denise Junqueiro: There's quite a few different brands, and they’re origin-specific. Avocados from Mexico definitely being the largest, you also have California Avocados, Avocados from Peru.
When I came on the scene about five years ago, I just became aware of how much information was not out there about what people really wanted to know about avocados. People wanted to know more about the product.
I saw an opportunity. So we have an in-house data center called Avocado Intel, and we constantly are looking at shopper insights of how they purchase, what they're looking for, what they want, how much they're going to spend, what they want to know. And what we noticed was that consumers really wanted avocados based on their lifestyle, and at that time, we saw a lot of people being on the go. And it was the millennial generation that has really been attracted to avocados.
Well, millennials were either starting to become parents at that time, or they’re career oriented and they're on the go, so they were wanting those smaller avocados. So we saw a huge opportunity to create a product to specifically market to those people. It's been a tremendous success. Our retail partners latched on very quickly, and consumers have just been highly attracted to the product, which is called Mission Mini – “Small But Mighty.”
We also saw that consumers were wanting a ripe and ready product right now, but then they also wanted that piece of fruit that was a bit harder to last them later on in the end of the week if they weren't able to get to the store again. So we created a program called Ready. And that actually provided consumers the opportunity to grab those couple of avocados for tonight, and then have a couple that were not quite ripe and ready, but you knew in a few days they were going to be there just in time for what you needed.
MP: So this is suggesting to me a way of sort of cracking the nut of actually marketing produce, which is not generally a branded item. You're solving for this with true product development and product differentiation, rather than, say, marketing around just quality. It is visually different.
Junqueiro: Clearly, in produce we've always seen ourselves as a commodity. Well, I think we're seeing that that's not always true, and I think we're also seeing that consumers have changed. They want to know more about their product, and they want their products to fit in with their lifestyle.
Consumers are also not only purchasing just at the stores but online. And I think, in produce, we have a real opportunity to step into this now and to actually think of produce very differently. People want to be connected to the products they buy, they want them to be purpose-driven. In produce, how much more purpose-driven can you be then making sure people are getting nutritious food to eat?
MP: What are the challenges in working with the retailers? Do they see this as an opportunity for them, or does it confuse the market?
Junqueiro: That's a really great question because a lot of retailers are like, hey listen, we have our own program, it's company-specific, we're doing this. Other retailers are like, are you sure the category is going to grow? Are you sure that's what consumers are looking for?
And the data speaks for itself - that's been the foundation of what we do.
Retailer have had double-digit growth when they've tried our sizes, they’ve tried out Ready. And so those retailers are willing to just take what they might see as a little risk, [which] has worked out substantially for them and not only made them more competitive in their market, but drove their sales in the category.
MP: So when you're trying to raise awareness of differentiation on produce, at least among consumers, what are the media channels that you leverage most for that work?
Junqueiro: Yeah, there is a real opportunity, and I will be transparent, there's so much more we can be doing. And I think it's just a matter of a shift happening with the
industry and with produce as a whole and also with retail.
But it's really connecting at every single touch point with that consumer, making sure that there's a touch point if they're using click and collect or they're using delivery services. So it's really where are the consumers, and how do we hit that touch point to make sure that they're aware of not only this product, but how it can bring value to their life?
MP: How did your own media spend evolve, say in the last few years?
Junqueiro: As an organization, we hadn't always used channels like we used to because we had always seen ourselves as a B2B versus a B2C company. So as a marketer, sometimes it was challenging to get those dollars to spend, knowing that we could reach the consumer and have more of a pull through.
But COVID kind of changed that for us. We knew we had to up our ability to communicate. We're really using a lot of channels, of course, all the social channels. This year we created a podcast. And that wasn't really specific to drive sales. It was more to provide a lot of information and knowledge.
We also became a public company in October. So this was an opportunity for a wide audience range not only to get to know us, but to know more about the avocado business.
There are a lot of people out there that don't understand that the actual demand for avocados is higher than what supply currently is, and it's also depending on the time of year. But in the United States we've been very fortunate that we've had supplies year-round. Well, go back 20 years, and that wasn't always the case, so these other origins had to open up.
MP: Which media channels are most important in driving this? Are you heavy up in TV? Is this a big branding effort to get people to recognize mission? Is this something that takes place at the retail level and shopper marketing more than anything else, or through digital pushes and social media?
Junqueiro: There's a lot of opportunity for us to use a lot of the vehicles and mediums that you just mentioned. We have seen ourselves as a B2B company to this point, and so we have really been driving it through the channels of our retailers and our customer base. Our goal has always been to make sure they're serviced and they have what they need. So our marketing has all been about that pull-through, adding a lot of value.
But there is a lot of opportunity for us to reach consumers in a different way, because we're really educating them about the avocado. And we are the grower. I think that's a completely different angle than what you're seeing with some of the other marketers in the space.
MP: And we should definitely round out this podcast by talking a little bit about your own podcast.
Junqueiro: Our podcast is “For The Love of Avocados.” We're on our fifth episode, diving into all things avocados. What's the field-to-fork view? We've done one on sustainability, which was a wonderful podcast where we had the head of sustainability from Chipotle and also Walmart as our guests. This week we talked about the consumer trends we see going into the summer months and ahead of us now post-pandemic.