BTGA Conference highlights retail opportunity for fresh produce

Tomato growers' event covers discounter purchasing.

Cowan: children consuming fewer tomatoes each year - image: HW
Cowan: children consuming fewer tomatoes each year - image: HW

Discount retailers Aldi and Lidl "will account for one pound in five spent in the fresh-produce market by 2020", Kantar Worldpanel head of produce Chris Cowan told the British Tomato Growers' Association (BTGA) conference in Warwick on 28-29 September.

Outlining the changing grocery retail landscape and its impact on the fresh-produce sector, he said that while the discounters have taken £95m in sales from the big four supermarkets over the past year, "only about half of their growth comes from shoppers switching - the rest is extra purchases". He added: "Produce is one of the most frequently bought items and there is an opportunity to get them to buy more, and more often."

In this he gave the example of Aldi's prepared mango packs, which "rather than devalue the category they attracted new shoppers to that market". He pointed out: "The average spend in Aldi has gone up and is now higher than in the big four. They get a lot of premium sales and they over-trade in produce. We think the two will account for one pound in five spent in the fresh-produce market by 2020. They are good at in-store promotion and on provenance, and they are overtly promoting their British links."

Kantar's analysis of the tomato market in the year to mid August showed a 2.4 per cent rise in value to £715m and a 2.2 per cent rise in volume to 260,000 tonnes. But while frequency of purchase also rose to 25 times a year, penetration remained steady at 93 per cent of households.

Plum baby tomatoes "have been the star performer", said Cowan. "Overall you are getting people to buy them a bit more frequently, but children are consuming fewer tomatoes each year - that's an area for concern. Other salads follow the same pattern." On Brexit, he said: "Retailers aren't yet increasing prices but that may change after Christmas. We are a net food importer. Simply having a Union Jack on the packet isn't reason enough. The brand message has to be there."

This was echoed in an address to the Great British Tomato Conference by Ollie Lloyd, founder of the Great British Chefs website, which has worked with the BTGA to promote British tomatoes. "Consumers are not clear why they should buy them so we need to inspire foodies to choose them not out of patriotism but because they are better, longer on the vine, more flavoursome and fresher," he explained. "You are lucky in that you have a clear reason. Chefs are militant about quality. The challenge is to get that across to your audience."

He said his approach is to "place brand partners' content strategically on the website" so that "when people bring up a recipe with tomatoes, we hit them with the 'Buy British' message", adding that 145,000 email subscribers have also been sent British tomato-themed recipes. "We also profile growers. They have stories to tell and it humanises this."

Lloyd claimed there has been "a revolution" in the perception of vegetables in the past five years. "There has been a move from meat to veg and fish, and there remains a challenge to create recipes to put these to the fore. In all our recipes, tomatoes are front and central." He added that by contrast the potato sector is "not inspiring people to think about potatoes in a new way".

Aimed at "professional foodies", his website showcases more than 100 chefs of varying styles and nearly 3,000 of their recipes, increasing by at least 50 per month, and has 1.1 million visits a month. "People cook with their eyes, so we need good photography," said Lloyd. "Increasingly they leave their cookbooks on the shelf and search their smartphones. Our content puts food on dinner party tables and gets people talking about it."

Conference chairman Philip Pearson said: "As growers we use a lot of technology but haven't applied it to getting in touch with consumers."

  • Aldi was once again named Retailer of the Year at the Retail Industry Awards on 29 September and picked up awards for Fresh Produce Retailer of the Year and Fresh Flower Retailer of the Year. The revamped Co-op won the Convenience Retailer and Food-to-go Retailer titles.

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