Promoting Products


On a recent trip to Lowes early in the month, I was confronted by a large display of berry plants strategically situated in the main aisle.  As a former retailer I was extremely impressed.  To say the least, the packaging cups were unique and a new ”invention”.  I was drawn to the

Raspberry cups

graphics which had top notch clarity with vibrant colors.  The shipping boxes were designed to convert to a point of purchase  display.  The product (plants)were tissue cultured and consistent sized.  All in all this product kit and its components were first rate.  I’m sure thousands of hours of design, testing and prototyping went into it and I wouldn’t be surprised if it wins a “Product of the Year” award.

However as a grower and nursery owner, I was extremely dismayed to see this.  Not from a competition point of view but from the knowledge that probably every one of these plants will soon be dead.  The customer will have lost their money, but worse,  will be left with a bad taste in their mouth about growing and supplying their own food. 

Raspberry display

Often in the retail nursery world but especially in the big box arena,  it’s a race to see who can get the first sales of the year.  It’s all about product turns and dollars generated per square foot of selling space.  I receive copies of the trade journals for the Nursery industry and it is estimated that 25% of the vegetable plants and flowers purchased in the spring season will be repurchased since they were planted too soon and lost. 

Mind you I am not against the quality of these plants or their appearance.  My complaint is they are being promoted to an unsuspecting consumer to plant out now.  It is fully 2 months too early for these to be planted outdoors in Albuquerque and 3 months too early for the East Mountains.  To have a chance they would need to be babied indoors and repotted into a larger container. When the weather gets warm enough, they would need to be hardened off for at least a week.  This entails taking them outside on warm days, keeping in the shade, gradually exposing them to longer periods of direct sun and bringing them back in a night.  I notice that Lowes was keeping them indoors, not in the outer garden section.

A plant such as a raspberry can take -10 degree temperatures when fully dormant. However, it is most susceptible to damage or death from freezing when it just budding out new leaves.  These tiny, young plants are not near as tough as an older established plant (which is also susceptible to frosts).  At this point it can suffer damage at just a little below freezing and probable death at 25-29 degrees.  What are the chances we will see these temperatures before spring or the frost free season beginning?  I am not a real gambling man but I would wager about 100%.  Or to say it another way,  if you buy these plants and plant them out they will die! 

This is not the same as planting out bareroot stock which is still dormant.  We do not use greenhouses or force our plants in any way. They are grown here and come out on their own when Mother Nature tells them it is OK.  I know its tempting to want to get some green going after a bleak winter, but your patience will pay off in live plants that perform for you and in a monetary savings also, if you wait until the appropriate time.

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In the car and off to the next one.  This is a neighborhood store also but probably twice as large as the first store.  Again it is very well stocked, almost overflowing with merchandise and looks prosperous.   This store also has a restaurant tucked in back and a certain amount of cooking supplies.    A very friendly lady immediately came to help me.  When I asked her for Jujube  (and also Goji) she knew right what I wanted and brought them.  In our conversation she also indicated that the Jujube is a very good seller, in fact the size they offered was 16 oz.  It was larger and also a dollar more at $4.99.

16 oz. package of dried Jujube "Red Dates"

I asked about fresh Jujube and she told me they do not carry them because they only grow in China and have no way to get them here to sell.  Several times I tried to explain to her that we grow them and would she buy from a local supplier?  Finally she conceded she would although I am sure she thought she was just humoring me.  I was unable to find out exactly how much she sells of the packaged dried ones or her estimates of sales of the fresh ones, but with another visit and some samples I am sure we could get a more accurate assessment.

When queried about why she sells so much of the packaged dried jujube  she explained that her customers ate them almost daily.  They do not eat them whole like one would often eat dates but instead chop them or dice them and add to almost all rice dishes or stir fry.  She tried briefly to explain some of the Asian concepts of  food as medicine and how the jujube was considered an important part of this in Eastern culture. 

 There are a few interesting observations that make me believe that this is a market just waiting for a supplier.  Both stores while small, had a very loyal and good repeat clientele and had customers in them.  Both stores had the same brand and importer of product which tells me there is limited availability.  But most of all, the product I tried was not very good.  It was dry and had very little flavor.  I would guess also by its small size that the lowest quality is used for export and the best is consumed in China.  Virtually all dried Jujubes I have eaten here, even the types that were only made for fresh eating were better than the product I purchased.  I believe that with some samples and a taste test that these store owners would gladly carry a New Mexico  grown Jujube or red dates and that they would sell for a premium price. 

This is just a small sample of the places one could start to market this product.  There are at least 6 other stores in the metro area catering to the Asian population and a few that are much larger.  The amount of restaurants serving Asian cuisine is staggering and the market for the fresh product delivered in season could be very good.   You would want to develop an appealing package  and maybe offer 2 or 3 sizes for the dried fruit.  Another search of “the Google” showed many ethnic associations or “clubs” catering to these specific  groups.  This would provide an excellent venue for direct marketing or to gain customers for a U-Pick-It operation.  In summary, I think the future is bright for anyone willing to take the ball and run with it promoting Jujubes locally.

 

 I have long felt there would be a good demand for Jujubes  if you could market them correctly.  Since our business model is to promote and develop fruit crops for small growers that will be profitable here, growing is only part of the  equation.  They can’t be profitable if they can grow them but can’t sell them.  Therefore a portion of our efforts are dedicated to also teaching growers how to build demand and market their product.  I have watched and taken note as many vendors at the farmer’s markets spend considerable time and energy promoting new or uncommon vegetables (think rutabaga).  They give samples, use discount pricing, promote in their newsletters and/or websites and give recipes and tips on how to use and prepare them.  Most of the farmers I have spoken to expect to spend a year to two years “educating the public” on their new food variety.  In unison they voice how hard it is to gain acceptance for something new.  Some people won’t like it, some will go back to the old varieties, some will not think it worth the price etc.  While necessary, that all seems like a lot of work and trouble.

 One of the reasons given for why Jujubes never gained acceptance the early 1900’s in this country was that they were promoted too soon.  They were passed out at events and gatherings by excited government officials as soon as the first crops came in.  Unfortunately these varieties were ones made for drying, not for fresh eating and the public turned their collective noses up at them due to the poor flavor.   Now we have many varieties that are good for fresh eating as well as different ones that are better for processing and ones made just for drying.  So it’s like starting over with an unknown fruit.  Add to that a product that has confusing name.  Jujube  Jujube.  To me it conjures up visions of the old candy by the same name that was really not very good   (I may be showing my age here).     It was the forerunner of the improved “Jujyfruits”,

JUJYFRUITS

which seems like the forerunner to the modern “Gummy Bears”. and of course my personal favorite, the “Gummy Worm”.

 Enough history, how do we build a market?   And how do we do it the easy way?  It came to me that we may not have to educate the public when there is an already educated segment of our society out there.  If we are lucky maybe all we need do is fill a demand!  So straight to “the Google” I went.  A quick search for “Asian food markets Albuquerque” came up with 8 locations.  Certainly they would use distributors to import the foods they sell and might be interested in a fresher, locally grown product.  So I hopped in my car and headed out. 

 The first one was a small neighborhood store which was packed with all types of food items, the vast majority of which I had no clue what they were.  I only knew the others if they had English writing on the package.  This store even had a small restaurant hidden in the back with 4 tables.  When looking through the shelves I quickly found what I was looking for, a 12 z.  package of dried jujubes or “Red Dates” for $3.99.  My Korean is a little rusty, so in my best

12 oz. package of Dried Jujube or "Red Dates"

broken English  I asked her if she sold a lot of these and she indicated she did.  As they had a small fresh food section I asked her if they ever sold them fresh or would they like to try and carry the product.  After much back and forth and many hand gestures on my part, I believe the answer is that they never have them fresh because of no supply and that there would be a very big demand for them. No doubt if I had walked in with samples we would have communicated better.

 In the car and off to the next one.  This is a neighborhood store also but probably twice as large as the first store.  Again it is very well stocked, almost overflowing with merchandise and looks prosperous.    Continued……..