Matthew Crouch, marketing manager of Freshmax Group and winner of the 2016 Marketer of the Year Award, sits down with Produce Plus to discuss what’s in the works for the 2016 Sumo Citrus marketing campaign

Matthew Crouch, group marketing manager of Freshmax Group

Matthew Crouch, group marketing manager of Freshmax Group

It’s one ugly piece of fruit that was the centre of a well-executed campaign. 

This year, the larger-sized, seedless, top-knotted Sumo Citrus mandarin is back, with an advertising campaign running across TV, radio, in-store and online from 1 August until mid-September. 

Indeed, it was the 2015 Sumo Citrus brand awareness campaign that ultimately won Freshmax Group marketing manager Matthew Crouch the PMA-Produce Plus Marketer of the Year Award, which recognises excellence in the marketing of fresh fruit, vegetables or flowers in Australia and New Zealand.

Accepting the award at the PMA Fresh Connections Gala dinner in Brisbane in May, Crouch told the audience to “challenge everything we see as the normal way to market in this industry”.

One breakthrough in the Freshmax campaign was with the aid of PR agency Flourish PR, which challenged the norms of having to pay to have produce promoted by bloggers.

The ‘Ready, Steady, Sumo’ competition engaged thousands of people, with entries from both the public and more than 30 unpaid bloggers, which Crouch says challenged the norms around engaging bloggers who can charge up to A$2,000 per recipe creation. 

Since winning the award, Crouch says he’s had a lot of positive feedback, not only about the ideas brought up during the acceptance speech about the need for more innovative marketing in the fresh produce industry, but also about the campaign itself.

The proprietary citrus, marketed exclusively by Freshmax Australia, has hit Woolworths’ shelves for its fourth year, being sold nationwide for the first time during its short season. This year’s volume is estimated to be around double last year’s, coming in around 60,000 trays.

This year, retail marketer Retail Safari will oversee 300 Sumo Citrus tasting sessions across 200 Woolworths stores over three weeks. While this aspect of the campaign takes up more than half of Freshmax’s marketing budget for Sumo Citrus, Crouch says the results are there. 

“Although now in its fourth year, as Sumo Citrus’ range continues to expand so too must our efforts to introduce it to new customers. We’ve had great in-store response from customers,” Crouch says. “Retail Safari works on an average conversion rate of 30-40 per cent as being normal, which means three to four people in ten will buy the product after tasting it.

“In South Australia, where we supplied Sumo Citrus for the first time in 2015, we saw a 57 per cent success rate. So that’s three in five people buying the product after they’ve tried it – double the average success rate.”

Crouch says this year will be a year of kicking over a lot of unturned stones for both Sumo Citrus, and Freshmax’s proprietary apple variety Modi, with both brands to be on show at food events across Australia including the Sydney Good Food & Wine show, with roaming ‘activists’ offering tastes of the fruit.

Freshmax is also the official ‘Fruit Partner’ to the Rugby Union Players’ Association (Rupa), supplying Sumo Citrus and Modi apples at Rupa events. It’s a pilot engagement, highlighting the strong connection between fruit and sport, with Freshmax’s IP fruit to be supplied to key teams and school training sessions, and in return, Freshmax will gain ambassadors.

The Sumo Citrus animation is used in Bully Zero Australia workshops at schools across the country

The Sumo Citrus animation is used in Bully Zero Australia workshops at schools across the country

The 2016 campaign will also see Freshmax work with brand ambassadors including dietician and nutritionist Lyndi Cohen, who will be an advocate for Sumo Citrus being part of a health, balanced diet.

“Our goal [at Freshmax] is to engage as broad a range of channels as early as possible with new brands. We then have the freedom to continually test these channels as the brand matures. This helps us to identify the best vehicles for engagement and dialogue with a brand’s specific audience,” Crouch explains. 

“Sumo Citrus is more niche than other products we market, such as the Modi apple, that has an Italian heritage but is Australian-grown; offering a uniquely targeted audience that it can appeal to on a cultural level. 

“Due to Sumo Citrus’ unique qualities, we must continue to reach people in as many different ways as possible, keep trying new things, and keep pushing in new directions.”

One of the new directions was taking an ‘ethical’ approach to the marketing of Sumo Citrus, teaming up with charity Bully Zero Australia.

When Freshmax began scoping out its media campaign for Sumo Citrus, coordinated by Gravia Media, it first had to establish a television commercial (TVC) concept. In January last year, Crouch and the Freshmax team sat down with their account manager from design agency Collier Creative and brainstormed ways to get Sumo Citrus on television without going down the well-worn orchard path of shooting aerial footage of farms.

“Those ads do have value, and they have a place, but for our first ever Sumo Citrus TVC we wanted something a little more original,” Crouch explains. “So we thought, what’s the end game? What’s our goal with a TVC?

“We identified that Sumo Citrus has secondary segments and identifiers – its unique look triggers an emotional aspect – it makes you curious. There’s an opportunity there to push those buttons harder.

“Ideally, we wanted kids to want it and parents to approve of buying it.”

And this is where going for the ethical side of the brand came in. What began as brainstorming ideas around Sumo Citrus as a sporty character to promote a healthy lifestyle developed into a discussion around mental health, progressed to how Sumo Citrus could be used to push an anti-bullying message, and then led to storyboarding an animation.

“We then started looking for a charity to support our concept, and we approached Bully Zero Australia.”

As luck would have it, the brother of the Australian anti-bullying foundation CEO Oscar Yildiz is a citrus grower in Western Australia. The combination of an existing respect for the product and the wider concept meant that he loved the idea.

“So we decided to have a campaign that touched on those emotion points. It’s a ‘brand ethics’ piece rather than commercial product driving, and it’s had great traction within the industry, with feedback being that it’s a clever message that’s pushing different directions, and winning MOYA underlines that,” Crouch says.

The animation, which depicts a big, ugly Sumo Citrus mandarin stepping in to help out some cute little limes being bullied by a couple of bad cookies (that’s actual choc chip cookies – no euphemism here) is now used in Bully Zero’s workshops at high schools across Australia.

“Ultimately, we want customer satisfaction, and our customer is Woolworths, and they loved the message and were comfortable to back it,” Crouch adds.

The sweet, seedless top-knotted fruit is stocked exclusively at Woolworths

The sweet, seedless top-knotted fruit is stocked exclusively at Woolworths

Where next for fruit marketing?

Stepping away from just promoting the whole fresh fruit, Crouch says there’s also opportunities to create year-round availability of Sumo products, including Sumo Citrus juices and Sumo Citrus frozen yoghurt. The idea is to create a brand that resonates with consumers.

“If you look to the wider grocery sector, and FMCG sector, there are lots of clever things happening in terms of gamification, social influence and trying to send secondary messaging with products. The goal must be to make people buy into a brand over and above a product, and we could do a lot more of this in the fresh produce industry,” Crouch says.

And why has the fruit and vegetable industry been so slow on the uptake of marketing compared to the FMCG sector?

“In my mind, an industry adopts new technologies and marketing practices in parallel with its speed of developing new products. In fresh produce, a tree goes from nursery to orchard and many years later you have sufficient commercial volume to justify the delivery of a marketing campaign to consumers. This means that the industry has been used to a slower curve of marketing innovation,” Crouch says. “However, as a different generation takes its place and gains influence across the supply chain I don’t imagine it will be long before marketing innovation ramps up industry wide.”

As group marketing manager, Crouch overseas Freshmax Group’s marketing activities across Australia and New Zealand, reporting to Freshmax GM of categories Simon Gillett.