As marketing strategies for fresh produce companies become more complex, more companies are starting up in order to help businesses to sell their produce more effectively. Douglas Kling is among this group, having ventured out on his own after a decade as Senior VP and Chief Marketing Officer at Village Farms. His company, Kling Strategic Partners, stemmed from another company he founded in 1982, Resource Network Associates, Inc. in Princeton New Jersey.
"After several decades in the Consumer Products, Food, Dairy, and the most recent decade in the Agricultural industry, I decided I could add more value to organizations from an outside perspective, bring a set of fresh eyes on new business opportunities for profitable growth and expansion," Douglas Kling shared.
Kling designed his company so that he can devise more professional and customized strategic marketing plans for the companies he works with. The company focuses on developing and maintaining programs as well as ensuring there is a market for the produce itself.
"We offer the ability to develop and grow profitable programs and management strategies, through Creative Ideation, Profitable Partnerships, Strategic Marketing, and Board Director Support," Kling explained. "That is how we came up with the tag line from Seed to Need. The seed or any idea or product is only as good as the market needs it fills or creates."
"Kling Strategic Partnerships (KSP) offers new concepts in growth, based on a process created from over thirty years of experiences known as Virtual Thinking™," he continued. "Virtual Thinking™ evolves from the belief when innovating you don’t just think outside the box you blow it up. In this process the only parameters are there are no parameters."
Benefits of flying solo
So why step out from an established company and then bring new strategic marketing ideas forward to companies? According to Kling, marketing and the fresh produce industry as a whole, is becoming more complex. He said it requires greater flexibility which is something he can offer as part of his services.
"Most companies base innovation process on traditional foundations, that are short term and can be inconsistent," Kling noted. "They tend to be inconsistent due to rapid changes in the market and shifts in consumer demographics. These paradigm shifts require new dimensions in meeting consumer needs and trade demands. We used to live in a world where programs, products, and strategies, were based on annual plans, quarterly directions, and monthly quotas. We now live in a world of nano-seconds which demand and require more adaptable and flexible modes to thinking and viable execution."
Part of this complexity comes from the fact that success in fresh produce is largely dependent on factors out of the grower's control, such as the weather. This is where Kling said his experience helps shine through. "During my tenure at Village Farms along with positions on various industry boards I learned how fragile the overall agricultural industry can be," he said. "This fragile condition being based on weather conditions, political situations, disease pressures, along with trade consolidations. The ability to maintain growth, build profitable programs/brands, and develop consistent market share and mind share (consumer) gains, can be daunting. This is why in our mission statement we have developed, as part of Virtual Thinking™, an additional 4 P’s to the traditional 4 P’s of marketing."
Trends for 2019
With changes happening so rapidly and a new year about to dawn on us, the question raises as to what to expect in 2019. Labor and other costs such as freight are challenging companies right now, and therefore some expect that mergers will become more common to help ease the burden of these costs. Kling shared, "A major industry trend that seems to be gaining strength is consolidation of farms due to the strain on new more intense and expensive regulations, shortage of labor, global competition, and new consumer demands in variety and flavor satisfaction."
Kling added that this year will also see a continued focus on home delivery and online ordering. However, he noted that there are unique challenges to this from a marketing perspective, the main one being the lack of physical interaction between the product and the customer. This is one aspect he plans to look into deeper over the next 12 months.
"A major trend in marketing is new channel development," he said. "In produce there are many challenges to home delivery due to the perishable nature of the product. However, many retail chains, along with Amazon and the recent acquisition of Whole Foods have expanded and met this challenge with their click and collect programs. The challenge in these programs is the lack of sensory impact, such as color, smell and overall visual appeal, on the purchase of produce. Although this trend is growing, the majority of produce is still purchased at retail by the consumer segment in North America."
In conclusion, Kling noted that this is a unique time in the world of fresh produce and he looks forward to helping businesses with their marketing strategies into the future. "In the food and in particular the Agricultural industry it is my belief we are at a global tipping point. There has never been a better time to 'Seize the Day' for true innovation and development. These truly are exciting times."