How Driscoll’s Stays Sweet As Groceries And Ad Dollars Move Online

Driscoll’s, the century-old fresh fruit company, is no stranger to change. But the transition to online ordering is a tricky one for the brand.

Driscoll’s works with geneticists and fruit growers to hone the tastiest berry varieties, and its sales and marketing arm brings the fruit to market. But its marketing and seed-editing machine is all built around that moment of selection, when a shopper picks up its standout berries in the produce section.

Online shoppers just see many similar photos of strawberries, raspberries, etc. – putting in doubt the millions Driscoll’s spends on R&D to develop the juiciest berry.

Driscoll’s is working hard to make its case to grocers and online ordering services – namely, Instacart – that they should be thinking about their online storefront more like a traditional brick-and-mortar store, said VP of brand and product marketing Frances Dillard.

Produce is a priority in physical stores, because people who start their shopping trip with produce on average end up with larger cart sizes than shoppers who start with any other category. (Someone shopping for clothes or electronics, say, is there to buy that and go, not doing a big grocery and errands haul.)

But Driscoll’s must work harder to get in front of online shoppers, working with retail partners to convey important insights about online produce. For instance, an online delivery left outside or even in a cool store can make a big difference in the quality of the fruit, and whether that customer will order produce online again, Dillard said.

AdExchanger caught up with Dillard about how Driscoll’s uses data across its supply chain, and how new grocery habits have changed the company’s media mix.

AdExchanger: How does a produce company like Driscoll’s approach data collection?

FRANCES DILLARD: People would be pretty surprised what we measure, all the way down to the to the actual seed, even before it gets to the market.

When we talk about the data and what we're measuring, it is focused on every single way that you can measure flavor through our supply chain, from R&D all the way to the consumer. So, for instance, where does flavor break down? And then how do we use that data from the supply chain to give it all the way back to the key stakeholders?

Seems like the data is really all tied to the freshness of the fruit, as opposed to consumers or users, as marketers typically think about.

Well, that’s really the challenge.

When COVID first hit, Amazon and others were so busy moving dry goods and trying to get the shelves stacked and filled, that our berries at times were not getting through the system and the supply chain fast enough. And we saw a deterioration in the quality. People were having problems with ecommerce orders. Unlike an apple or a banana, where there’s lots of leeway on the margin of error of how quickly you get it to a customer, a raspberry is probably the most perishable item.

So that’s why we focus on flavor and quality of flavor.

Since we’ve pushed more into online ordering, we’ve been making sure our cold chain [the produce industry term for the transport from refrigerated delivery truck to a store freezer to cold shelves] delivers on that freshness. We literally print posters for managers at the store level to hang in the back room or break room, and it has lessons on how to keep berries fresher.

Even with the click-and-collect orders, we’ve seen important differences in how quickly store associates bring orders out to the customer, or where the order sits inside the store, and for how long. We try to share our insights with customers depending on where they are in that ecommerce strategy, and how they handle produce.

Those are important factors to whether that customer orders fresh berries online next time.

Has the media mix changed in the past year, especially with more people ordering groceries online?

It is a traditional media mix. Especially for the Sweetest Batch, which are our raspberries and strawberries.

With the Rosé Berries, we’re really capitalizing on the social media trend. So we were very active with our Instagram storylines, and on our owned channels. That’s been a good investment.

We've been doing a lot of programmatic advertising, too, that our digital agency runs through Amobee. And there we’re directly going to people to drive to channels like Instacart and Kroger. That's the new investment in the marketing mix.

And we are broadening our target audience. For Rosé Berries, millennials are driving the targeting. I would say, generationally, the millennial moms and younger consumers are more open to the new flavors for the berries. And they also often are the ones with a higher comfort level ordering online. The older customers tend to want the raspberries and strawberries they know, and to see them and pick them out.

Online ordering must be a challenge for Driscoll’s, where so much R&D goes into creating the most appealing berry, but online it’s just pretty much all the same pictures of fruit.

You’re right. It is an impulse decision in the store. Normally, in the store, Driscoll’s is the first fruit you see in the produce section, and there’s the ability to see which fruit is freshest, and to judge it. The merchandizing is brilliant.

I think that visual is critical. Since we’ve built the brand and trust in store, Driscoll’s is in a good position with ecommerce.

If the product image is a terrific Driscoll’s branded image, it makes a huge difference. We're working hard on our tech stack just to make sure that a branded image is served when someone first searches for produce online, on whatever platform they’re using.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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