There was a clarion call for producers to work together on marketing from campaign manager Pam Lloyd.
Sales of UK shallots have more than doubled to £10 million in the eight years of the industry’s promotional drive, she said.
Her agency, Pam Lloyd PR, runs the campaign, which has seen industry funding increase from just £3,000 a year in 2005 to £30,000 now. As value sales have doubled, so has household penetration to 13.6 per cent.
“It’s a long-term commitment, it does work and it does have results,” said Lloyd, explaining why producers should not cut back on marketing in tough financial times.
Companies who do not have a particularly new product that is being sold in a unique way, or a marketing war chest of over £500,000 a year, should consider taking part in collaborative industry product promotion, she added.
Tom Amery, managing director of The Watercress Company (TWC), said growers should tap into the huge opportunities to promote their products and story in the national and regional press.
He told the conference that retailers such as Tesco, to which TWC supplies 100 per cent of its watercress, were “desperate for information to show they have a strong relationship with growers.”
That means putting details about the grower on the back of packs, linking through to websites with further information and talking to regional and national media about the positive stories around the business, Amery explained.
“The media is very interested in talking to growers,” he insisted.
The head of promotional body Taste of the West urged the horticulture industry to engage with collaborative marketing to the extent that their agricultural cousins have.
John Sheaves implored fresh produce growers to get together and promote themselves via the organisation, citing the example of the Dartmoor Farmers Ltd co-operative as a group of 54 producers who have collectively added value to their products.
Some 70 per cent of West Country consumers want to buy locally produced food, he claimed, with 61 per cent actually buying it. “People value local food more than three or four years ago and don’t want to buy anonymous products,” he said. “It’s all about promoting quality now.”
Taste of the West’s members range from small local producers to bigger national names such as Rodda’s, Burt’s Crisps and Mole Valley Farmers.
QV Foods and Fresh Approach director Simon Martin claimed there were “far too many cauliflowers suppliers”, making it impossible for anyone to make a decent profit on the crop.
Martin was unequivocal in his criticism of growers for not bringing supply into balance.
“The cauliflower situation won’t change until the industry changes, collaborates properly and grows the volumes the customer wants,” he told the conference.
“Too many people are producing caulis and are fighting for market share.”
He added that retailers were “not the bad boy” and cited the example of one supermarket that had been offered 12 times the volume of cauliflower that it could sell.
Elsewhere, Martin revealed that QV Foods and Fresh Approach would be doing more work in developing regional brands in the coming year following the success of Cornish Crystal potatoes. The products are expected to be sold in significantly increased volumes in Asda next season.
Sandy Anderson, fresh foods buyer at foodservice specialist Elior, said foodservice suppliers should pay the same attention to getting across strong provenance stories as retail suppliers do.
He suggested suppliers label packaging with crop and farm details such as when and by whom it was harvested.
“Our clients all want to know where their food comes from,” he said. “We must give the good news stories and fly the flag for British produce on our menus.”
Anderson also suggested producers should work together to supply what can be a difficult segment: “The route to market can be complicated. How can we get more suppliers into the supply chain? Maybe working collaboratively.”
Some 25-45 per cent of the fresh produce Elior buys is UK product, depending on the season, with Anderson also saying the foodservice sector offered more stable supply. “I won’t screw the farmers down like some supermarkets do,” he insisted. “If you produce the right quality, I’m happy to pay for it. The reality is foodservice is a bit gentler.”