business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

"Fresh Talk" is sponsored by Invatron: Proven Technology.  Innovative Thinking.  Intelligent Solutions for Fresh.

Content Guy's Note: "Fresh Talk" is a new MNB feature, scheduled to alternate on Wednesdays with "Kate's Take."  It will examine all aspects of "fresh," in both the broadest and most focused meaning of that term (depending on the whims of the columnist). "Fresh Talk" is sponsored by Invatron...which you can learn more about here…but which has no input into the subjects covered or responsibility for the attitudes taken.

To get a sense of how fresh foods ought to be marketed and merchandised, one has to go no farther than the Farmers Market that is held on the campus of Portland State University each Saturday morning; I go there every weekend during the summer, and it simply is a delight.

It stretches on for blocks, features a wide and unusual variety of foods, and usually is packed, as you can see behind me. I think it offers some strong lessons for how retailers should approach fresh foods in their stores.

First, there is a sense of plenty - there is an enormous range of products displayed, and not only can you find pretty much anything you are looking for, but you also will find things you didn't know existed and never would have dreamed to look for. One of the things that happens is because there are so many things presented in interesting ways, you're willing to try them … it almost seems unsportsmanlike not to. I have to be honest here: the whole kale thing escapes me, but there is so much of it here that they're even wearing down my resistance.

There's also a real sense of theater - you can hear the music, you can see all sorts of performances, there are cooking lessons, and tons of sampling going on. As far as the latter goes, it isn;t as if this is a new concept; if people think something smells and good and tastes good, they;re far more likely to try it. Except that even today, there are a ton of retailers who simply don't get the importance of sampling, at least not to the extent that people get it here.

Finally, there is wonderful integration of fresh food with different kinds of foodservice - people aren't just shopping for food, but they're also eating. There is a breakfast burrito stand, for example, that routines has a couple of dozen people waiting on line. I was one of them, and let me tell you, it was worth the wait. This is yet another kind of theater, and it works.

If you are going to be in the fresh foods business, it is critical, it seems to me, to work hard to make it a differential advantage through marketing, merchandising, theater, and a real sense of food expertise. That's especially critical today, with competition coming from all directions.

Fresh foods can be a real and differentiated path to success. But you have to do it right, like they do at the PSU Saturday Farmers Market.

KC's View: