How Caribbean Food Exporters Colt Their Revenue Game

You may not believe me, but I have news for Caribbean Food and Produce exporters who believe that signing the sales contract and shipping the goods is where their revenue game ends.

My intent is to remind you of how and where you are leaving revenue on the table or in the recycle bin— of the Canadian Export Market. I invite you to try your own experiment based on my two cents of wisdom then tell me if you un-colted your revenue game.

But first let me share your export produce story with you. One afternoon, while strolling between the aisles of Caribbean produce in a popular Toronto supermarket a man with a middle eastern accent walked up to me. He was holding a breadfruit in his hand, and he asked me if he could just wash, peel and eat the fruit. I answered no, and explained that he would need to cook the fruit by roasting, baking or boiling before eating it.

The man’s curiosity regarding the fruit was obvious but, he returned it to the shelf because he was not sure how to prepare it.  That incident represents just one of many occasions where Caribbean food exporters lost potential income as a result of their failure to educate consumers about their products.

Another time, a Chef of Caribbean origin laughed at me loudly with condescension. His joke—I had asked if they served roasted breadfruit in his Caribbean Filipino restaurant. Breadfruit was not roasted in his neck of the Caribbean.

But here is the big miss — Sales promotion, if I learnt nothing else from my days at Sobeys I learnt the magic and power of in-store demonstrations and taste testing when it comes to driving sales in the Canadian supermarket.

I could share numerous anecdotes of produce staff and cashiers who fall nervous and anxious when faced with the challenge of identifying Caribbean foods. You can hardly blame them when some items are incorrectly labeled on the shelf. Should —or will the Supermarket take on the extra cost to create awareness about these exports?

For many the decision to export was driven by the need to increase both sales and income to proportions far exceeding the market size and capabilities of their local economies.  The assumption that familiarity, national pride and nostalgia make the national and Caribbean-wide Diaspora an easy and lucrative target market is only true to an extent. The approach of seeking to build a market in Canada through the ethnic niche is justified given Caribbean exporters could not possibly hope to dominate the market for foods and produce. But, applying those strategies and theories strictly within “that box”, may have contributed to costly complacency and a lack of creativity when it comes to the need for supporting exports with advertising and promotion.

While the Diaspora is likely the largest consumer of Caribbean exports, its members are not likely to eat the same foods every day when there is much to explore and enjoy. Despite strong feelings of patriotism and love for things Caribbean the buyer’s decision will oftentimes be swayed in favour of cost savings.  In addition, many children of Caribbean emigrants are likely to consume more foods from the environment in which they grew up.

By focusing solely on the Diaspora and underestimating the culinary curiosity of the wider population of Canada and North America exporters miss out on the chance to increase sales and reach consumers with higher buying power. And in so doing they also forgo opportunities for growing and maintaining sustainable levels of sales on an ongoing basis.

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Yellow yams which should have been pushed from the shelf into shopping charts long ago.

A Guyanese retailer does a great job of reducing oxidation related discolouration of yams after they are cut. Who will educate large Canadian retailers on how preserve produce? There are the consumers who read the labels in the aisle but return the goods to shelf because they don’t understand the product.

Scenarios such as those described above reflect the failure on the part of exporters to capitalize on the appetite for Caribbean foods aroused by exposure at:

  • the ever-popular workplace potluck
  • the increasing presence of Caribbean restaurants on the culinary landscape,
  • local festivals such as CARIBANA and tradeshows supported by entities such as Caribbean Export Development.
overripeavocados

Overripe avocados in store on the supermarket shelf.

Exporters should invest a small portion of their earnings in recipe creation or repackaging and distribution, sampling in supermarkets, sponsoring live cook and taste in restaurants and contests, then leverage brand awareness for building their brand equities. The photos in this article testify to the fact that the produce exports sit on the shelves too long resulting in waste and revenue lost for both exporters and retailers.

Free daily newspapers and weeklies present great opportunities for engaging and converting customers. The Metro has a daily readership of approximately [i]1.6 million, Canada-wide. Because they are available at subway stations and sidewalk kiosks most commuters and even individuals at home read one each day. Weeklies including The Caribbean Camera are available in Caribbean stores and service locations. Could you increase brand recognition, influence the attitude and purchase decision of millions of potential customers by having a presence in these publications?

Social media also presents rich and largely unexploited opportunities for wining a share of the consumer’s mind and spend.

Unlike some older traditional brands, many of the newer offerings lack distinctive marks and names which effectively distinguishes them beyond being Caribbean.  More human both in terms of images and stories are needed to powerup the brands. Let us not forget the importance of branding when it comes to ensuring your product is recognizable and favoured by the customer at the critical moment of first or attempted repeat purchase. Picture him or her in the aisle of a supermarket, surrounded by dozens of other similar products or alternatives.

What’s next is bound to happen when an exporter underestimates the role of providing nutritional and health related information as well as the opportunity to taste or benefit from a reward in influencing the purchase decision of the North American shopper. She will sabotage her own efforts to grow sales, increase income, attract new customers and secure repeat purchases.

[i] 2016, October 19. The numbers are in, and Metro’s readership continues to grow in Toronto . Metro [Online] Available at: <http://www.metronews.ca/news/toronto/2016/10/19/metro-news-readership-continues-to-grow-in-toronto.html>

 


Recommended Citation

Scott, M. ( 2017, June 7). How Caribbean Food Exporters Colt Their Revenue Game. Adapted from “How Caribbean Foods and Produce Exporters Sabotage Their Own Profits” by  M. Scott. 2012. Big Business Mind for Small Businesses.

Copyright © 2017 Meegan Scott
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