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Maria Wieloch:

“Balance between price and taste is important”

Waiters wear pink ribbons; there are pink ribbons on punnets of raspberries; the whole of Sweden is coloured pink in October. October is Pink Ribbon month here. Annually, money is collected in various ways, to help finance cancer research. ICA, Sweden’s largest supermarket chain, also takes part in these campaigns. The group is trying, by means of various marketing campaigns, to increase the consumption of fruit and vegetables in Sweden.

In October, products with pink ribbons on their packaging can be found in the shop shelves. The group donates a portion of each product’s sales to the Pink Ribbon campaign. “Just with the sale of fruit and vegetables alone, about EUR 1.3 million was collected last year and we intend to exceed that this year”, says Maria Wieloch, Senior Category Manager Fruit and Vegetables. When, for example, a punnet of raspberries is bought, ICA donates a portion of the sales price. “It is big in Sweden; you see it everywhere. A lot of money is collected with all kinds of campaigns, and ICA is a big donor”, she explains.

“ICA label is trustworthy”
“We want to increase the consumption of fruit and vegetables in Sweden”, Maria shares the group’s vision. On average, Swedes still do not consume even half of the daily recommended amounts of fruit and vegetables. “As the biggest retailer, we find that we must take our part in this responsibility.” This is evident in their sponsoring of various events, and the introduction of new labels and packaging.

A large portion of the products are brought to market under the ICA label. “The ICA label is found to be highly trustworthy by consumers. Only products that meet our specific requirements are packaged under the ICA brand. We take full responsibility for our products’ safety”, she continues. The products must also meet CSR standards. “In the summer, there is more local supply available, so we then buy more local products”, says Maria.

The price is, according to Maria, not always the most important factor. “Swedish consumers are extremely price-conscious. The balance between price and taste is what is most important”, she argues. If a product taste good, it is easier to consume the amounts needed. In order to promote fruit and vegetables, the ICA holds so-called ‘deep dives’, in which a segment is thoroughly reviewed. This is meant to lead to new concepts, resulting in the products becoming more desirable.

Photo: Martin Löf

Apples to be classified in the same way as wine
Two examples of product groups that have recently been overhauled are apples and tomatoes. “Apples are an important product, but it is a group that has minimal growth. We wanted to make apples hip again”, says Maria about this ‘deep dive’. This led to, for example, a classification system similar to that used in wines. It classifies each apple variety according to how sweet or sour the fruit is. When the Pink Ribbon campaign are over, this marketing strategy is going to begin.

They also took a look at tomatoes. “We have designed new packaging, and we have new varieties”, Maria explains. Plastic was used for the old packaging. By replacing the plastic containers with paper ones, the use of plastic is reduced by twenty percent. “In addition, we have more space on the packaging to communicate the various uses of tomatoes with our consumers”, Maria names as results of this brainstorming session. “Sales climbed by five percent, which means 100 000 new consumers bought tomatoes.”

Salads for the BBQ
In addition, attention can be focused on different target groups. This is reflected in the design of the packaging. “We wanted Halloween to be more than kids going around collecting candy. We need to increase kids consumption of F&V and think this is a fun way of getting their attention.says Maria about the most recent Halloween project. The names of various products are being adapted to fit into the Halloween-theme. “Also the design is playful and Halloween inspired with monsters, witches and spiders for example.” In the same way, the summer packaging for salad mixes are changed. The bag gets a summery feel, and the salad mix transforms into ‘grill mix’. The whole packaging radiates the feel of a BBQ.

But the communication is not aimed solely at the client. ICA wants to, by means of various courses, broaden the knowledge of the shop staff. “At the ICA Academy, we offer training about fruit and vegetables to personnel”, says Maria. An example of one of these courses is the presentation of fruit and vegetables in the shop shelves.

Photo: Martin Löf
Cauliflower rice and laser labels
The Swedish supermarket chain has, for the past few years, taken the lead in a number of developments, even though not each one was successful. “We were the first to introduce cauliflower rice”, Maria says. Despite the success of this type of rice, Sweden is lagging behind when it comes to the idea of convenience. We were also first with Courgette and pumpkin pasta but that did not get off the ground, and the range of processed fruit and vegetables is limited. “Coconut dates are, however, popular”, says Maria.

This Swedish chain of supermarkets was also the first to introduce laser labels on organic products. “We wanted to sell the products loose, and so had to label each one individually”, explains Maria. By using a laser label, each product’s information is burned into it’s peel. This, however, caused some confusion. The difference between organic and conventional avocados, for instance, was not always clearly visible due to the rough texture of their peel. The cashiers could also not always tell them apart. “So, we no longer use this method of labelling for avocados”, says Maria. Kiwis are the next product that will be labelled n this way.

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Maria Wieloch

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