Collaboration and information sharing are at an all-time high in our industry between producers, buyers, associations and allied organizations. Personally, I find myself hungrier for information every day than I ever have been. And, I find that information is being shared more freely than I have ever seen in my career, to the point where I am struggling with where to put it all, how much to retain, and how it all works together to help move us forward into this looming new normal. 

With shelter-in-place having moved nearly everything to digital at the drop of a hat, those not plugged into more than one type of platform could very well be left behind.  Is this what the ‘new normal’ has in store?

This week, I participated in six webinars with attendees ranging from 30 to over 3,800.  Some were industry-specific, others hosted by research groups and industry experts—the largest being hosted by USDA.  

One industry-specific webinar, hosted by the Blueberry Council, invited experts from PMA, PBH and Walmart to shed light on challenges and opportunities as the blueberry season progresses. As a response to COVID-19, the Blueberry Council has quickly reallocated budget to digital platforms in order to drive demand, support farmers and maximize retail sales. Interestingly enough, much of this transition was already planned for 2020 as leadership recognized consumer trends shifting toward digital coupons, recipes, and other shopping aids.

PMA CEO Cathy Burns discussed the immediate need to connect buyers and sellers, and she cited the new iTradeMarketplace as a solution for instant communication and collaboration. She also highlighted PMA’s work in developing the #Joyoffresh campaign which provides tools for the entire industry to deliver consistent messaging to the consumer.

Melissa Byland from Walmart shared her perspective on post-March panic buying. Current trends indicate that consumers are shopping less frequently and buying more each trip. We’re seeing that shopping days have shifted from weekends to weekdays. It also appears people are still buying a lot of toilet paper, which leaves some industry insiders a little mystified. This week’s trend may not hold for next week. What does ‘trend’ even mean in the COVID economy?

As a marketer, my mind naturally wrestles with how much marketing in the future will be reshaped by what’s occurring now. Daily, I dive into available research to determine the best path forward in promoting fresh produce. An interesting stat this week: over the last 30 days, 65% of consumers in the 18-24 demographic have tried new brands because of pricing issues or because their current brand was out-of-stock. And, 30-45% of those consumers now prefer the new brand.  Additionally, 70% of consumers say they still prefer visiting brick and mortar stores to buy their groceries. Even now. With time, we’ll see how much this stated preference aligns with actual online vs. in-person grocery spend figures during COVID, and what happens with brand loyalty post-COVID.

Not that my crystal ball is the right one, but it makes sense that digital will last in produce’s ‘new normal.’ Think about brand stories and influencing the buyer’s journey. We are all tied to our devices searching for new recipes, coupon offers, ways to stretch our dollars and ways to keep our kids occupied. Arguably, companies that stand out where consumers are easiest to reach—online rather than at the shelf, at least right now—could position themselves well to gain share once this is over. Whether consumers will go right back to their pre-COVID shopping behaviors is a big wild card. And if that does happen, it’ll most likely take some time. Whether in your garage, living room, guest room or have the luxury of a home office, we can be thinking today about the best ways to reach the post-COVID consumer.

A quick word about Zoom. Two months ago, I had never really used Zoom; today, I am using it several times a week and it has risen to the ranks of Fedex and Google as a verb. I think teleconferencing solutions will be part of our ‘new normal’ and I am thinking about how they can be assets that bring consumers and farmers together.

Lastly, something to think about. One statement that stuck with me during the webinar last week was Cathy Burns stating we are  “a humble industry to a fault and we need to begin to flex our muscles and shine”….words to live by, together.