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Lightning Strikes: An Outsider’s Insights From the Brandstorm Produce Marketing Convention

By Vanessa Doll

In branding and packaging design, it’s essential that we communicate the benefits and story of a brand in a way that touches the consumer to the core. While my title may not have the term “marketing” in it, I share the same objectives and investment in the success of a brand or product. There is no way for our design and branding agency to know all of the challenges our clients face from every single angle. However, the more we can learn about them and their company story, the more we can truly deliver on the promise of authenticity consumers crave. I was hoping for a “fresh perspective” (pun intended) at Brandstorm and these were the key components I took home with me.

Where my ladies at? Produce Marketing.

One thing that was particularly cool about Brandstorm: when I looked around the room, many of the attendees were young women. It’s easy to think of the produce industry as full of ‘good ole’ boys. Often when you attend a large convention, there is notably a sea of stiff uniforms and men of all ages.

The environment at Brandstorm was casual, and collaborative rather than competitive. I met smart, savvy women who had progressive strategies and were able to lean in with their own experiences as Millennials and Gen Xers––some Moms, some health fanatics, and some who even grew up on farms.

There were women who had more traditional employers who weren’t ready for a consumer-facing mindset. Some who had forward-thinking management who were pushing them to look beyond the buyer. Getting to know some of these women and their experiences in their professional environments was the highlight of the event for me.

Ecoli, Oh My! Quality of product and crisis management is top of mind for this particular group of marketers.

This a good example of pretty classic marketing challenges coming to life in a unique way. Every brand (worth their salt) is concerned with the quality of their product. They all run\ the risk of a detrimental P.R. issue simply by existing. But when it comes to keeping things fresh, up to spec, and safe for consumption, there is a lot of opportunity for disaster. Educating consumers on something like an outbreak is really hard. Basically, anything that goes wrong with your product reflects poorly on your brand, whomever’s fault it may be.

In branding and package design, we have the luxury of representing a product at its best.

This resonated with me as an interesting pain point. As brand-builders, we don’t often have to worry about upholding the reputation of the brand. In branding and package design, we have the luxury of representing a product at its best. When managing social media for our clients at Freshmade, we are continuously seeing customer service as an emerging component to telling the story of the brand or product. Produce marketers must have a contingency plan as part of their marketing strategy from the onset because word can spread fast and people talk. A lot.

Brands are the new politicians.

This idea came to me out of the Edelman presentation where they put up this stat: 64% of consumers are ‘Belief-Driven Buyers’ who will choose, switch, avoid, or boycott a brand based on its stand on societal issues. By comparison, 61.8% of Americans voted in the presidential election in 2016. (Reference: https://www.census.gov/newsroom/blogs/random-samplings/2017/05/voting_in_america.html)

I know it may seem brands and politicians are apples and oranges, but are they really? Most consumer habits are indicative of their family’s and the community they grew up in, much like party affiliation. And while it seems that people are increasingly disillusioned and distrustful of politics, they are now expecting brands to do the “right thing” (whatever that may be according to each consumer’s moral compass). It’s not easy to please the whole contingency and still make a profit. Like most voters, people want you to fix “it.” But they don’t want to pay for “it” or understand the business implications of one choice over the other.

That’s a lot of pressure… are brands  really “expected to solve society’s problems?” Storytelling can help convey the positives, but understanding what resonates with the consumer is key. We’ve certainly seen many politicians miss the mark! I look forward to seeing how industry leaders navigate this new(ish) territory. 

That’s one heavy mental shift.

The great divide between BtoB and BtoC stands strong and wide in produce. It’s understandable when buyers are still king, retailers set a lot of boundaries, and restaurant and private label sales are primary profit sources. The most interesting session to me was the digital strategy session with Liz Caselli-Mechael, Digital Corporate Communications Lead at Nestle USA. There wasn’t revolutionary information in this session about digital marketing. Much of it was common sense and centered around harnessing the tools that so many large brands are already wielding. It was the idea that marketing produce to consumers via social media was not already the norm. The power of packaging and what it means to the consumer is sometimes low priority, but sell sheets are still going strong.

I realized that because I come from a CPG design and branding agency, I see these produce brands through a different lens than they see themselves.

A lot of those I met at Brandstorm described their company as solely BtoB, but they had proprietary names and unique products. I realized that because I come from a CPG design and branding agency, I see these produce brands through a different lens than they see themselves. However, there was a crackle in the air at Brandstorm. I believe this new energetic force of marketers will drive a shift to prioritizing consumer-facing messaging.

Employees can work for you… as brand advocates.

I heard this idea in several places: the digital strategy session aforementioned, the human connection pitch by LeAnne Ruzzamenti, and even in one of the stories from by Todd Dewett in the opening remarks. This one I took to the bank––managing the team is a huge part of my responsibilities at Freshmade, and most days, it’s the hardest.

Empowering our employees to tell the story for us, in some cases to our clients, is a delicate balance of trust. What they put out there into the world is reflective of everything we do here. However, encouraging honesty and valuing their input is important to us. Giving voice to our employees as a marketing tool is a unique perspective. I will continue to be challenged by that idea while looking for ways to implement it.


What I gained from Brandstorm was exposure to marketing culture and challenges in produce that I’m not always privy to at my own design and branding agency. Not all of these pain points arise when working on specific design projects with only one or two clients at time. While some of the ideas weren’t new, how they manifest in the fresh perimeter is different than a shelf-stable product. I walked away inspired, intrigued, and with some pretty special new produce pals. Well worth the trip.

Reference Link: http://www.unitedfreshbrandstorm.org/

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