The quality equation

In the fresh produce sector, the word ‘quality’ is probably used more than any other when describing fruit and vegetables.

And we all know that competition is so fierce in the trade, whether locally or overseas, that only the best quality survives. As I have written on numerous occasions, the market punishes inferior quality by either not buying the produce or offering a much lower price.

On a market floor, you’ll find the full range of quality, from the very best to the worst. This is one of the benefits of a fresh produce commission market – it handles everything. This means the farmer can sell his total crop, thereby minimising losses and building good averages.

Retailers vs the market
When a farmer supplies direct to a retailer, the latter wants only the best produce and the farmer is left wondering what to do with the balance. If he puts it on the market, he’ll probably get a lower price for it – and no doubt blame the ‘market’. But the market is simply responding to the laws of supply and demand, which include lower prices for lower quality. And the farmer chose to sell his top-quality produce elsewhere.

Another facet of the quality equation is that top brands have to maintain their position in relation to their competitors by finding ways to differentiate themselves from the others. This could be in the form of packaging, presentation or adding value. It could also be as ambitious as revamping the brand, by producing a new, modern logo, new colours and new designs.

Targeting a specific consumer group
Some brands will identify particular consumer groups based on their income and offer their product in a way which appeals to that group. A good example is tomatoes in bulk – plastic crates – which are then transferred to the buyers’ containers at the market. The quality is still there and the brand remains identifiable, but the supplier has catered for a specific buyer need.

The word ‘quality’ in fresh produce has gone beyond telling us a product is better or superior. Growing a top-quality product remains fundamental to successful fresh produce marketing, but if you want to step up to the next level then other forms of enhancement have to be introduced. These are just some of the benefits of ongoing vigorous competition.