Originally printed in the November 2018 issue of Produce Business.
Everyone loves a good story, especially one that captures our attention with details that evoke powerful emotions. Facts only get us so far. Eliciting an emotional response is the winning strategy for any storyteller or marketer.
When it comes to foodservice marketing, telling a local story has been used extensively to prompt diners to make decisions in restaurants. Want to sell more beer? Let diners know it comes from a local craft brewery. Want to sell more trout? Call attention to the fact it was caught in a local river. Want to sell more tomatoes? Mention the local farmer’s name on your menu.
When Chef Patrick Mulvaney’s of Mulvaney’s B&L in Sacramento, CA, puts farmer Ray Yeung’s tomatoes on his menu, he uses Ray’s name and often the heirloom variety name. In media interviews and discussions with diners, Mulvaney often talks about “Uncle Ray” to intimate Ray is part of the family, an important aspect of telling a good story. It says something about the relationship between the farmer and the chef. It’s not just a business transaction. Ray is treated like a member of Mulvaney’s restaurant family, just like employees on his culinary and service team.
Chef Mulvaney talks not only about the flavor and colors of the tomatoes but also about his respect for Ray as a master craftsman who produces gorgeous, flavorful heirloom tomatoes. Ray’s tomatoes are featured in everything from alluring Caprese salads and refreshing gazpachos to Bloody Mary’s made with “fresh tomato water” created from reserved tomato trimmings, a nod to “root-to-stem” produce utilization espoused by many innovative chefs in fine dining.
That’s enough about Mulvaney and Uncle Ray. At least for now.
‘What’s the local story you can tell about your produce when it comes to employment and economic development? You may not be growing and harvesting within a certain state or region, but does your business support other businesses that are thriving in a local area?
What if your produce isn’t grown or produced locally? What if you’re selling something to a restaurant that comes from a different state, region or country? You can start by creating a sense of place that people can relate to easily. Saying “Grown in the Salinas Valley” isn’t as powerful as saying “Grown on the Pacific Coast.” Readers of John Steinbeck novels may know about the Salinas Valley, but everyone knows about the Pacific Ocean, and many may dream of one day seeing it and experiencing the glamour of the good life on the California coast. Give diners a chance to experience a little bit of it through your produce item.
If you can’t come up with a good story about the location, can you tell a richer story about a production method? A few months ago, I picked up a bag of frozen spinach in store that proudly proclaimed, “Grown Without Pesticides.” I was suspicious until I turned the bag over and read the story about the protected growing conditions in a small valley in Mexico. The marketing copy had me hooked, and here I am today telling you about this. No, I don’t remember the valley name, but I do recall how impressed I was with the marketing copy that backed up the claim, something more and more consumers are seeking.
There are also great stories to tell about post-harvest handling. The frozen fruit companies that talk about how they “harvest at the peak of ripeness” and “lock in field fresh flavors” are brilliant. Consumers think fresh is best, yet the frozen fruit marketers are winning when it comes to telling a compelling story about locking in flavor and freshness. How quickly does your company harvest an item and get it into cold storage to “lock in” quality attributes? Can you tell a better story about this, especially to people in foodservice that care about these issues?
Finally, what’s the local story you can tell about your produce when it comes to employment and economic development? You may not be growing and harvesting within a certain state or region, but does your business support other businesses that are thriving in a local area? If I were selling fresh produce to Google, Facebook, or any other tech leader in the Silicon Valley, I’d be talking about how I empower the people who empower our lives with technology.
Finding the right local story to tell isn’t always easy, but it’s worth the effort, especially if your story creates positive emotions like pride, happiness, reassurance or love.
Amy Myrdal Miller, MS, RDN, FAND is a farmer’s daughter from North Dakota, award-winning dietitian, culinary nutrition expert, and founder and president of Farmer’s Daughter Consulting, Inc. She is the director of The Culinary Institute of America Healthy Menus R&D Collaborative and a consultant for the Produce for Better Health Foundation. You can learn more about her business at www.farmersdaughterconsulting.com, and you can follow her insights on food and flavor on Twitter @AmyMyrdalMiller