How Driscoll’s pivoted from fresh in-store to fresh online

How Driscoll’s pivoted from fresh in-store to fresh online

Think about shopping for fresh produce. Didn’t you usually shop in-store so you could inspect the goods before buying? But that changed in 2020, right? In addition to buying non-perishable groceries online, you started looking at fresh meat and fish, vegetables and fruit.

And yes, that meant a COVID-19-accelerated pivot for traditional fresh produce companies that previously just had to get the goods into stores, prominently displayed, and make sure consumers knew their name. One of those companies was Driscoll’s, the “only the finest berries” brand.

We spoke to Frances Dillard, VP of Brand and Product Marketing at Driscoll’s, about pivoting a fresh produce offering.

A business model for berries

“Driscoll’s has been around for 100 years, we’re family-owned, a private company,” said Frances Dillard, VP of brand and product marketing, herself a ten year Driscoll’s veteran. “We are the global market leader, we only focus on the fresh berries side — strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries. We’re in about 22 countries, and we are one of the few companies that is really focused on proprietary varieties.”

At the heart of Driscoll’s enterprise is the R&D group, consisting of of agronomists, breeders, sensory analysts and plant pathologists. Seeds are proprietary to Driscoll’s, under patent, and offered exclusively to a network of some 900 independent growers around the world. “They take the responsibility of growing the berries, then they bring them back to us for the marketing component,” said Dillard. “It’s an incredible community-based model; they get back 85% of the sales.”

The premium berry market

It takes time to develop a new berry variety and bring it to market. Driscoll’s now markets”Sweetest Batch” versions of the berries from its traditional portfolio. It also offers “Rosé” versions of strawberries and raspberries, lighter in color than the familiar varieties. The Rosé berries have actually been on the market for 12 years; but one problem was that, too Baby Boomers and Gen X, at least, they looked unripened.

“Millennials are so much more open to new flavors, new perspectives, trialling,” said Dillard. “Over the last two to three years, there’s this whole rosé thing is happening in the wine industry. So we had this incredible intersection of the right generation open to trialling [the berries] and the cultural hype of rosé. That opened up the whole concept of a premium segment to us. Super-premium flavors don’t necessarily have the yield to them. They are very limited, and they do require a lot of care from the growers we select. So the segment is small but the opportunity is pretty big for us as we map it out over the next five to ten years.”

Flavor, she said, is the number one purchase driver for consumers. “We’re just in the sweet spot of unlocking a lot of what science can do.”

The new direction: digital

“Across the board, beyond millennials, the digital age is right now exploding for us,” said Dillard. She recently restructured her organization to reflect a more formal omnichannel approach and to ensure a consistent brand experience across pre-purchase, digital engagement and shopper marketing, and post-purchase behavior. “Shopper marketing is where we spend most of our time and money now,” she said.

COVID-19, of course, accelerated the behavior of online shopping. “When you think about how produce was shopped previously, that’s one of the products where fresh selection, eye appeal, in-store merchandising — it’s such a personal experience.”

In the early days of the pandemic, supply chains were challenged — a real problem for a proffer based on freshness of product. “We pivoted and started to learn more about third-party services. Instacart and Shipt were two that we trialed. We also doubled down with our retailers direct in understanding click-and-collect and their online process.” 

In the past, Driscoll’s approach to digital had been based on storytelling and loyalty. What’s now important is earning the click to get into the virtual shopping basket. Instacart reported in April of this year that fresh produce was the fastest growing among its top 10 categories, showing an increase of over 300% YoY.

In traditional retail groceries, fresh produce is what you see as you enter. “Produce drives the store,” said Dillard. The third-party online grocery stores don’t necessarily know that, said Dillard, but Driscoll’s is keen to educate them. “If you double down on produce, you will have the most loyal shoppers that will drive everything else.”

Adding to the stack

To address the new reality, Driscoll’s is putting a PIM in place. “It was a little painful, I’ll admit, when we started doing Instacart and Shipt. There was a lot of manual heavy-lifting that we had to do in order to ensure that our product was front and center and UPC codes were correct. We have a DAM system in place; we’ve identified a PIM and are putting that in place.”  

The PIM is Salsify; the Dam is Widen. “The two talk to each other. The DAM is more of a creative branded asset platform, and then Salsify is more on content management.”

Shopper analytics is important too, but in Driscoll’s case (it doesn’t have its own e-commerce site) the data is with third parties. “Instacart has been generous and helpful,” said Dillard, “but we are now looking at an industry-wide approach. The Produce Marketing Association is opening up discussions with Instacart because it’s important for all of produce.”

Earned media is the best

In addition to the kind of engagement leading directly to conversion, Driscoll’s interacts with its audience on its website — storytelling and recipes. “We’re very heavy into recipe development,” said Dillard. “We have more than 500 hundred recipes across the board and test everything that goes on there. We’re really deep in SEO; we do understand, by berry, which recipe is the top searched, then we double down. For example, we know that strawberry shortcake is one of the top three on strawberries, so we have at least 10 strawberry shortcake recipes on site.”

There’s social media too, of course. The brand has, for example, over 70,000 followers on Instagram, almost 40,000 subscribers on YouTube. “Our agency of record is VLM Y&R,” said Dillard. Driscoll’s has adopted influencer programs too, for example with chefs and master sommeliers. Email campaigns are conducted through Salesforce.

Above all, however, Dillard cherishes earned media. “The launch of our Rosé berries — what we didn’t expect was the explosion on earned media. When you get coverage because you’ve sent samples and people are blown away by the flavor profile, that for us is really the highest compliment that we could get.”

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