The impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic has reverberated through Washington’s apple export markets, disrupting shipping, distribution and sales. Retailers and consumers were forced to develop new shopping habits, accelerating the changes taking place in some markets and triggering those changes in others. One of the biggest changes has been the trend towards e-commerce in the grocery and produce industry.
As the pandemic progressed and countries experienced varying degrees of lockdown, sales in traditional brick-and-mortar stores declined. Grocery shopping has transformed from a quiet weekend outing with the family to a quick round-trip to stock up, with consumers spending as little time as possible in the physical store. Almost overnight, the ability to implement traditional consumer-facing activities to drive Washington apple sales in retail stores disappeared. In-store activities such as sampling and merchandising are either prohibited or permitted only with strict protocols that limit the scope of the activity.
Internet usage has increased during the pandemic as consumers in many countries have been confined to their homes during shutdowns. The use of digital media has exploded, and with smartphones becoming more affordable and accessible, mobile devices have become the primary way to stay connected and shop online. Social media has become the de facto information-gathering tool, and consumers increasingly rely on advice and recommendations from friends or “key opinion leaders” – social media personalities that focus on segments of daily life (usually health/fitness, food/cooking, lifestyle, family, etc.). Although they still do most of their perishable food shopping in person, the Internet has become a primary source of information on food storage, preparation and consumption.
At the same time, fresh fruits and vegetables have taken a leading role as consumers are increasingly aware of the link between eating healthy foods and building a strong immune system.
Washington apples fit well into these new buying habits. They store relatively well, so a kilo of apples can last a week, and they have many health benefits. With restaurants closed during the shutdowns, consumers have been forced to cook or eat at home. Suddenly, people who previously ate most meals away from home were looking for simple and healthy ways to eat, and digital sites specializing in cooking recipes saw a surge in visitors.
The Washington Apple Commission, WAC, has responded to new challenges in communicating with consumers by strengthening our presence in digital marketing. Although WAC has a social media presence in several markets, most of the promotional budget was previously spent on face-to-face activities with consumers. With this option significantly reduced or eliminated and the infusion of additional funds from a Trump administration agricultural trade promotion grant, WAC has pivoted to expand the Washington apple’s digital presence in all markets.
In Vietnam, while promoting Washington Apple Week in early December 2020, 13 different social media influencers posted on Washington apple-related topics, ranging from quick and easy recipe preparations to tips. health and exercise, with more than 2.5 million Vietnamese consumers reached by the posts. . This exceeded the original target of 600,000, by 1.9 million, which shows the power of choosing the right influencer for the message. WAC continued the campaign throughout the spring, with social media posts and influencer articles, live recipe videos, online media articles and e-commerce advertisements with retail partners retail and home delivery services.
In India, WAC partnered with online supermarket Big Basket and sponsored an advertisement using a well-known internet personality. The retailer saw its sales double during the promotion, with more than 8.5 million impressions and 41,000 banner ‘clicks’ (people logging into the shopping site to buy apples). Also in India, WAC partners with two well-known celebrities – chef Sanjeev Kapoor and actress Disha Patani – to serve as digital brand ambassadors through a variety of media, social and digital paid advertising. A first post in December 2020 reached a massive reach of 6 million people, with 747,000 positive reactions (likes), 2,074 comments, 3,098 shares and 5,615 saves. The “engagement rate” (level of interest) was 14%, while an average is in the lower single digits. It is therefore clear that these messages have helped the WAC achieve the goal of increasing the visibility and awareness of the Washington apple in the market.
In Mexico, WAC begins the third season of the “Life is easier with apples” campaign. This innovative campaign aims to strengthen the presence of the Washington apple in the lives of Mexican consumers by associating Washington apples with typical Mexican proverbs (“dichos”) in a humorous and memorable way. WAC partnered with retailers through their e-commerce sites to promote sales using the Life is Easier theme, as well as running the campaign on traditional and social media sites. Over 145 million consumer impressions (the number of times it was viewed) and 5.3 million reactions (likes, shares, comments, etc.) showed that the smart campaign struck a chord sensitive, especially among consumers aged 18 to 35.
WAC is gearing up for another season under the cloud of COVID-19. We’ve all discovered how hard it is to make plans, only to suddenly have to change in the face of new virus restrictions. However, the Washington Apple Commission is committed to supporting our growers by implementing digital marketing tools, along with traditional marketing, to reach international consumers with the message “Live Healthy, Love Life”. This is our silver lining. •
—by Rebecca Lyons
Rebecca Lyons is the Director of International Marketing for the Washington Apple Commission. She can be contacted at [email protected]