At the bio-market at Rue de Tanneur in Brussels, Belgium, around noon on a Saturday, there is a long line in front of the building. People of all ages, social ranks and origins are gathering together to gain access to the world of bio-vegetables, farmers’ goods and products exclusively produced with organic ingredients. The reason behind the crowd is very simple: the market hall is not big enough anymore to serve people’s demand for authentic grown fruit and vegetables.
But that’s not the only reason. They are also feeling good about their decision to buy the products — knowing they support the local economy and that the products are in line with their environmental and social concerns in addition to the promise sold with it. The visual appearance of unpacked products, the mind-set of waste-avoidance by bringing your own jute bag (or canvas tote), the usage of refillable glass jars and the transparency of where the product is coming from. All of this sells a feeling of authenticity and trust.
Consumer Fragmentation And Purchasing Behaviour
If you look into relevant studies on global consumer trends, one can observe a growing fragmentation among consumers. Several outward changes, such as the digital revolution, substantially influence our shopping behaviour.
First, more choice, less time is influencing customers’ decisions on where, when and how to buy. The opportunities of purchasing locations seem endless. From online-delivery, convenience shops to bio-markets and mobile shopping.
Second, consumer groups have no streamlined profile anymore. In particular, so-called “silver agers” (those consumers typically defined as people older than 50) do not act as society expects them to. They are active, wealthy, and open-minded with an affinity to new technology. Traditional family models are cross-generationally disrupted. Singles do earn and spend more, and according to various Global Consumer Trend studies for 2016, the borders of gender are becoming increasingly blurred.
Third, there is an emerging search to counter the fast-paced, technology-shaped daily life we are currently experiencing. The happy and easy consumption-oriented 90s and early 2000s are replaced by an orientation toward meaningfulness of action. Activism is becoming a fashion, and news from the Internet is involved. This trend comes in the form of the sharing-economy, the rise of civil engagement on all societal matters, awakening interest for relationships between our way of living and our environment, which includes climate change.
The food shelf is the most direct and democratic power a customer could attain. What unites all of those trends is that with the increasing availability of information, people are developing a new sense of awareness for themselves and their actions. People want to make a change. Food is one of the most direct, convenient and effective ways of doing this.
They can decide where they buy their product, and whether or not the place of purchase fits into their set of values. They can decide what they buy — a more far-reaching decision than it has been before. Consumers consider whether the product is healthy and delivers added value with regard to the ecological footprint and the production conditions. With growing availability of information about health, social and local conditions, producers cannot dazzle the client anymore with only packaging. Fun and entertainment must be replaced with authenticity and honesty.
The ‘More’ Factor
This might be the momentum needed for the European fruit and vegetable industry as well as imports into Europe, which have all suffered by a decline of consumption by more than 10 percent during the past 10 years. There is no better answer to consumers’ wish than the consumption of fruit and vegetables. It is the product that delivers the most additional value to the consumers. Doing something good to yourself and others could not be easier.
What can the sector learn from the long line in front of the bio-market in Brussels? What can it learn from the more than 40 million Google entries about mindfulness? And what can we learn from the growing rate of zero-waste-blogs popping up online? The fruit and vegetable industry has now the chance to empower its consumers; to make them simultaneously feel responsible and aware about the multiple assets of fruit and vegetable with regard to health, societal and environmental benefits.
The industry has a story worth telling — but it must be honest and authentic. It is not the time for fancy promotion claims anymore. It is the moment to rethink the way of selling and toward a paradigm shift in the marketing toward the “more”: more value, more communication, and more mindfulness.
Freshfel Europe is the European fruit and vegetable association and represents more than 200 European and global members from the whole supply chain. Nelli Hajdu is responsible for international trade policy and plant health, but also for the communicational work at Freshfel.