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.
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 sometimes be swayed in favour of cost savings at a given point in time. 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.If you walk along the condiment aisle in any popular supermarket you are likely to find at least one customer of Non-Caribbean origin selecting and reading the labels of different Caribbean condiments. And if you appear to be of Caribbean origin he or she may then seek your advice on how to use it to create a dish they had. At times the item is returned to shelf because the potential customer does not have enough information to convince him or her that the product will produce the desired results or a recipe of how to use it effectively.
Scenarios such as the one described above reflects the failure on the part of exporters to capitalize on the appetite for Caribbean foods aroused by exposure at
• tradeshows supported by entities such as Caribbean Export Development,
• local festivals such as CARIBANA,
• the increasing presence of Caribbean
restaurants on the culinary landscape and the ever-popular workplace potluck.
By investing a marginal portion of current earnings into activities such as recipe creation or repackaging and distribution, sampling in supermarkets, sponsoring quarterly or monthly live cook and taste in restaurants of the same national brand and contests, exporters could increase exposure to their products, produce and brands and in so doing leverage brand awareness to for building their equity.
Publications such as the Metro, a daily newspaper which is read by more than [i]3 million readers weekly presents great opportunities for engaging and converting customers. The paper is available free of cost at every subway station and on every block in any public sphere throughout Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Edmonton, Halifax and other cities in Canada, North America and Europe. There are also dozens of other local free publications which provides great opportunities for increasing brand recognition and influencing the attitude and purchase decision of millions of potential customers.
Although the vast majority of brands are still fairly new and unknown, Facebook, Twitter and the use of Blogs presents rich and largely unexploited opportunities for wining a share of the consumer’s mind and spend.
Apart from the traditionally well-established brands, many of the newer offerings lack distinctive marks and names which effectively distinguishes them beyond being Caribbean. This is also another missed opportunity for ensuring your product is recognizable and favoured by the customer at the critical moment of first or attempted repeat purchase in the aisle of a supermarket where he is surrounded by dozens of other similar products.
Any exporter who underestimates the role of sales promotion, the demand for nutritional and health related information as well as the opportunity to taste or benefit from a reward in influencing the purchase decision of the Canadian and north American customer will continue to sabotage his or her own efforts to grow sales, increase income, attract new customers and secure repeat purchases.
To contact Meegan Scott please click here.
Scott, M. “How Caribbean Foods and Produce Exporters Sabotage Their Own Profits”. Big Business Mind for Small Businesses. 2012, April 5. Reprinted in Magate Wildhorse by M. Scott. 2017. Web.
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