Lisa Cork, winner of the 2013 PMA-Produce Plus Marketer of the Year Award for the Delta Produce ‘Love Kumara’ rebranding project, discusses what the accolade means, and her future plans for the campaign.
The 2013 PMA-Produce Plus Marketer of the Year Award has been on quite a journey since Lisa Cork of Fresh Produce Marketing scooped the accolade at the PMA Fresh Connections conference and trade show in Sydney on Wednesday 12 June.
Cork was presented with the prestigious award by Produce Plus and PMA Australia-New Zealand for her marketing work on the Delta Produce ‘Love Kumara’ rebranding project, which focused on reinventing the sweet potato category in New Zealand.
One of her first ports of call on returning to New Zealand was Dargaville, where she was able to share her success with the growers of Delta Produce Growers Cooperative.
In August, Cork took the award to the biennial Foodstuffs Fresh Food Expo in Hamilton, where it was proudly displayed at Delta’s booth alongside the winning range of Love Kumara products.
Cork, who migrated to New Zealand from the US 20 years ago, also has a solid international network in the fresh produce business – and that helped to garner coverage of her win from trade media as far as the US and Europe. As she headed off in August on a trip incorporating Cape Town, Singapore, Bangkok and Hong Kong, the accolade was sure to be joining her on the journey.
“It’s been huge; it’s been amazing,” says Cork of winning the award. “What’s been so humbling is to see your contribution, enthusiasm and passion recognised. The acknowledgement that the work I have done matters to consumers, retailers and ultimately growers means an awful lot. I have been marketing fresh produce and trying to help producers increase their sales for 25 years but such a recognition is amazing.”
Cork’s association with Delta Produce stretches back more than 10 years, when she ran a rebranding project for the cooperative and introduced a 1kg pack of kumara.
“Two years ago they made a strategic decision to review where things stood in the kumara category, and to see how they could improve on their marketing and packaging, so I was invited back,” she explains.
Nielsen Homescan data for kumara sales provided the original insights into the product’s performance and penetration, according to Cork. These revealed that the kumara category had stagnated, with key demographic groups, particularly one- or two-person households wanting smaller and premium packs, not served by the existing offer.
That led Cork to conduct a 500-person qualitative online survey to find out why the category was stagnating, and to better understand consumers’ purchase motives, preferences and barriers.
This qualitative research revealed that for many consumers, kumara’s size and shape were the significant barriers to purchase, particularly the large size and knobbly appearance.
“We honestly expected price to be the biggest barrier, but kumara’s knobblyness was rated as a bigger obstacle,” she says.
This insight was “a game-changer”, according to Cork, who admits that while “it should have been obvious after 20 years” it took this piece of consumer research to identify the untapped opportunity.
“On one side of the supply equation were kumara growers, who felt success was related to tonnage – big, knobbly kumara produce more tonnes,” she says. “On the other side of the equation, were consumer needs and wants. Consumers indicated they would be happy to pay more for smaller, smoother kumara that were easy to peel.’
The consumer research was a catalyst for change, resulting in new packs, new packaging and a new ‘Love Kumara’ brand.
A grower seminar at the Delta Produce AGM took growers through the consumer research and convinced them to see that growing and packing smoother, smaller kumara could drive profit and value growth, Cork explains.
Delta then held meetings with its retail partners to show them how a new multi-tiered, line-priced kumara strategy could help them sell more kumara for more money.
as based on research that showed consumers were very opinionated when it came to kumara. ‘They either loved it, or didn’t, with very few in between,” says Cork.
The new product, which was kumara sized and graded a different way, was presented in two eye-catching pre-pack formats. First, there were 900g bags of ‘Easi-Peels’, with the tagline ‘smooth, medium kumara easy to peel, cut and serve’.
In addition, Delta introduced a 500g pack of ‘Little Gourmets’. “The message we got was that little ones were fiddly, but these Little Gourmets were small and smooth enough to be just scrubbed and put straight into a roasting tin,” says Cork. “It’s about speaking to different consumer needs.”
A kumara harvest analysis showed a high percentage of small kumara were being under-marketed in crates and sold for low grower returns. “By changing the way kumara was sorted in the packhouse, smaller, smoother kumara could be directed away from bulk 17kg low-value sales and redirected into the premium 500g pre-packs,” she says. “This little pack proved to be a winner in terms of driving value growth for growers, and appealing to consumers.”
According to Delta Produce, the campaign’s introduction of 500g Little Gourmet packs of kumara helped growers to achieve a more than 200 per cent increase in sales values.
One of the main feats of the campaign has been to offer value-added products in the kumara category, but Cork says there is much more work to be done.
“We’ve only just begun. We’ve just undertaken research for the next round of innovations in the category, and if that research comes back positive, we’re going to have a product that’s bigger than what we’ve already launched.”
“My vision was always to have other products to add to the range, so that we had a category with four or five pre-packs,” she continues. “We have taken two ideas from the original research to a new round of qualitative research and if the findings are positive, the goal is to roll out two new types of kumara pre-packs next year.”
Meanwhile, this year’s Marketer of the Year is busy working on a number of other projects. “I’m doing some interesting branding work on grapefruit with an innovative grower in Florida around enhancing the value of their taste-tested grapefruit,” she says. “Plus, one of my other clients Edible Gems, which is a new brand of fresh-shelled legumes we launched last year, is also getting some volumes behind them now so we expect to ramp things up on that front in the coming months.”
By the sounds of it, Cork will have some good material ready to apply for next year’s Marketer of the Year Award.