ROCHESTER, N.Y -- Wegmans Food Markets here has taken the marketing of imported fruit to a new level with a colorful, full-page ad that shows its produce buyer inspecting grapes in Chile.
The ad, part of a freestanding insert launched late last month, sells Wegmans as a company as much as it does peaches, plums and grapes. Indeed, one produce expert said it goes as far as you can go toward making a fresh fruit a signature product.
"These [the peaches shown in the ad] aren't just peaches. These are Wegman peaches. That's the perception; that they're hand-picked for their customers. This is great marketing. I haven't seen an ad that goes to this extent with the idea," said Ed Odron, recently retired as vice president of produce for Lucky Stores' northern California division, and now a partner in Heintz & Odron 2000, a consulting firm with offices in Stockton, Calif.
A former Safeway executive, Ray Klocke, founder of The Klocke Advantage consultancy, Alamo, Calif., also said he sees the ad as a pretty unique marketing effort.
"As far as going to Chile, that's not a big deal. It's common practice for the large chains to visit growers in the countries they import from, but the ad is different. Showing pictures of Wegmans' buyers in Chile. I'm not sure consumers read those [image] ads, but it is creative," he said.
Odron noted that the photo of Wegmans' produce buyer Paul Stuart Sr. in a Chilean vineyard adds a particularly personal touch to the ad. The headline over the photo says, "We inspected." Another photo in the ad, which shows a packing plant in Chile, is headlined, "We Toured."
The headline at the top of the full-page ad, in inches-high type, says, "Come Experience a Taste of Chile. We've traveled the world to bring you the best."
Those lines are superimposed on a huge close-up photograph of moisture-beaded peaches, plums, grapes and nectarines. A map of South America is shown in the middle of the page with a block of it sectioned out and labeled, "Growing Region in Chile."
Underscoring the quality of the the imported fruit, the ad points out that "producing fruit that meets Wegmans' extremely high standards for size, sweetness, ripeness and color is both science and art...each fruit is hand-picked only when it reaches its perfect state of ripeness."
The ad also makes it appear that the 59-unit chain is buying its produce directly from growers it has selected. Here's part of the verbiage on the second page of the ad insert : "Why do we get so excited about Chilean fruit? The obvious reason is that our partnership with select Chilean growers means you can enjoy the best summer fruit in the middle of winter when [locally grown fruit] is unavailable here."
That blurb, set beside a close-up of a bunch of purple grapes, goes on to say, "We've traveled to Chile to meet these growers in person and were thrilled to find they share our philosophy about quality, food safety and sound working and growing conditions. In fact, we saw the same high-quality standards, technology and growing practices we're accustomed to with our select domestic growers."
Industry sources in Wegmans' marketing area had high praise for the chain's marketing acumen as well as its commitment to quality and food safety.
"I think it's a classical example of the lengths to which Wegmans goes to ensure that they have a discernible differential in the way they go to market," said Jim Riesenburger, managing partner in Riesenburger, Leenhouts & Associates, LLC, a Rochester, N.Y., consulting firm, and a former Wegmans executive.
"Their effort to ensure quality and safety really amounts to a substantial commitment to go the extra mile on behalf of their consumers. They would do it as a matter of course, but this ad translates into good marketing."
Riesenburger said he expects that Wegmans will work their visit to Chile into their ongoing television ads.
"It would create some very powerful footage with regard to their commitment [to quality and safety]. They do walk the walk and it makes good common sense that if you go to the time and expense of that kind of commitment that you tell your public about it. The ads are a logical extension of what they're doing."
While the ads may also have been designed to quell any fears consumers have about eating imported fruit, the industry sources SN talked to said they believe consumers, for the most part, are no longer wary of fruit and vegetables brought in from other countries.
"I think consumers by now are used to the idea of imported fruit. They're just happy it's available," said Odron.