NatureFresh Farms' Chris Veillon Discusses Expansion Efforts and Product Innovation
LEAMINGTON, ON- With trends in snacking tomatoes and greenhouse-grown produce on the rise, retailers are looking to constantly differentiate within the category and reinvigorate the consumer’s love for tomatoes. As we turn to 2017, Chris Veillon, Director of Marketing for NatureFresh™ Farms joins me to discuss how he sees the “future of fresh” and what the company is doing to answer the call.
Q: How is NatureFresh™ addressing the "future of Fresh" and what does that mean to company specifically?
Chris Veillon: Our expansion into Ohio is a major statement, especially for a company like NatureFresh™ Farms who has only been marketing its product for the last 5+ years.
We have pledged to grow in the Midwest in an area where you typically do not see greenhouses. The investment in Fulton County was not only about economic development and creating jobs; it was about a need to grow our business and provide exceptional greenhouse grown vegetables in the winter.
The future of fresh is dependent on meeting the increasing demand for freshproduce, regardless of the season. The need to reduce food miles; increase quality, taste, and shelf-life. We are very brand-centric in our position, especially when it comes to our tomatoes, hence why we created the OhioRed™ and TOMZ™ programs.
As a vertically integrated organization, we have the ability to control aspects of our business; from building to growing to packing to shipping to marketing our items. Not all growers have the ability to build their own facilities and then complete the sell through to retail. Our sister company South Essex Fabricating Inc. is our building arm; they have built all 45 acres of our recent project in Delta, Ohio.
Q: Why does the Ohio expansion make sense to NatureFresh™?
CV: With expansion comes the opportunity to be on more people’s radar. Once we started talking about growing through the winter in Ohio, people started to listen in a major way. Our OhioRed™ TOV’s took off like wildfire even before we had picked our first tomato. OhioRed™ has become a household name for people in Ohio and the Midwest.
The future of fresh is very bright for NatureFresh™.
Q: How are consumer buying behaviors and trends influencing the way they shop for produce, and how is NatureFresh™ responding to those changes?
CV: Consumers are creatures of habit for the most part. They shop the same store and buy the same products week-in and week-out. It can be tough to change habits, for better or for worse. Those who have been conditioned to purchase mediocre tomatoes from November to March, have forgotten that in the dead of winter you can get an awesome tasting tomato.
This past weekend, I randomly surveyed ten people in a supermarket produce aisle as I stood by the tomato category, here are the questions I asked them and how they answered:
- Do you buy tomatoes year-round? Three said yes, seven said no because of flavor.
- Is flavor important? All ten said yes.
- Do you buy snacking tomatoes? Four said yes, six said no.
- Do you buy a specific brand? Three said yes, seven said no–just whatever was available.
- Does country of origin matter? Six said yes, four said no.
Consumers who have traditionally purchased a snacking tomato, bought a dry-pint red grape tomato. It was for a garnish on a salad or to go along with a dip or veggie tray, it was never the focal point of the discussion. Building a snacking program that encompasses more than one item ensures continuity in a category program that can support multiple items. The TOMZ™ Snacking tomato line does just that:
- Red Grape
- Yellow Grape
- Orange Grape
- Red Cherry
- Mixed Grape (red, yellow, orange)
- Mixed Snacking (medley of colors & flavors)
- Sweet Red Cocktail
Q: Chris, why do you think the new snacking innovations from NatureFresh™ are being received so successfully?
CV: We had already begun the snacking journey when we launched the TomBar™ and TomBall™ program earlier this year. We have been very successful because it has given consumers the opportunity to hand select what they want. Not only does this reduce food waste, it is increasing the quality of product a consumer is purchasing. The turns at retail are more frequent, so consumers are always getting fresh product. Consumers are selecting the quantity, color, and type that they want which will reduce the amount people will dispose of if they don’t eat the entire container.
All of our TomBar™ and TomBall™ merchandising units have our Ohio-grown TOMZ™ in them and only ours. This way the consumer has consistent quality week in week out from the same grower/marketer and from the same farm, which is typically unheard of at this time of year.
Looking for more insights into the competitive greenhouse tomato category? Stay tuned as we bring you more from the pioneers making a difference, as we launch into 2017.