Promote produce from within

Departments - Edible Insights

Use these ideas to strengthen the connection and personal investment your employees have with the produce they’re growing.

May 29, 2018

Encouraging employees to experiment with your produce in their own kitchens can increase employee buy-in and word-of-mouth marketing.
Photo: AdobeStock

When I was asked what sort of internal company events a produce grower could organize to increase employee buy-in of their products, I mentally threw my hands up in the air. What can’t they do! I mean, it’s food. Everyone likes food. Given the popular (and necessary) nature of your product, are you maximizing your employee potential when it comes to marketing?

As produce growers, you have an amazing opportunity at your fingertips to leverage the personal marketing reach of your employees. There’s almost nothing more powerful than food to bring people together, and word-of-mouth referrals and reviews reign supreme. Put the two together, and you’ve seriously expanded your organic marketing efforts with marginal impact on your budget.

Product knowledge (PK) training is central to any business that has a product to sell. You can’t expect to reach your goals if your employees don’t fully understand, and relate to, the product you sell. How they value your produce product will also impact the quality of the job they do growing it. But standard PK meetings are boring, and do little to excite employees about your offerings. Here are a few ways you can get creative with internal marketing.

Launch parties

Similar to what you might see for a grand opening, staging an internal launch event for a new product is a great way to get the entire team excited. Launch parties are also a great way to ensure all staff gets to sample the new offering, be exposed to new packaging, and learn about different ways to use the produce. Provide a product sheet to all employees so they are aware of any specific promotional language you’ll be using for company marketing and advertising.

Seasonal taste tests

Set up seasonal taste tests so that employees can get to know how your produce tastes as it develops, and when it’s in its prime. Or learn how certain growing practices are helping — or hurting — flavor and quality. Doing so can create a sense of inclusion and pride in your produce. Set up these events just like one would at a public event tasting. Tomato tastings are a popular model, and attendees get to vote on their favorite flavors.

Employee chefs

I’m assuming you’d prefer your employees purchase and use your produce instead of someone else’s. So why not incentivize them to be creative with yours? Relevant content development is a crucial part of modern marketing, and recipes and produce go hand in hand. Teaching your customers how to use your produce in creative ways should be an integral part of how you market your product. By having recipe and cooking contests with your employees, you not only create a way for them to participate in, and influence, company culture and marketing – but you can also promote their recipes to customers.

Hold a monthly recipe contest. The previous month’s winner gets to join in on the team of judges. The month’s winning employee chef receives some sort of bonus incentive (cash, a paid day off, whatever works for your business). Then, you use the winning recipe as marketing content for customers. Even better, shoot a video of your winning employee chef preparing their winning dish. A turn in the spotlight is always great for employee morale.

Cook & learn

Exposure and education are key to employee happiness and development. If you can’t often let employees out to visit vendors or other operations, consider bringing experts to them. If you are working with a local or celebrity chef to promote your produce, bring them in-house for special demos just for your staff. This is a great opportunity for employees to learn more about how to use your produce and ask food prep and cooking questions.

Leverage social media

Now that your employees have tasted and used your produce in their own kitchens, what are you doing to leverage their individual social media reach? It’s no secret people like to take pictures of their food. Wouldn’t you prefer your employees were taking pictures of your food? There’s no shame in rewarding employees for preaching your brand message online to their own personal network — given the message is relevant. Consider offering small cash payments or other benefits to employees who share images and information with social media. Make sure everyone understands how to properly name, tag and write about your products when they do post them. You can even include sample post language on your employee product sell sheets.

Grow side benefits

Planting the seed of intellectual curiosity is a big side benefit of deepening your employee’s product knowledge. Many produce growers will need to turn to internal education and training programs to meet demand for qualified labor and knowledgeable growers. Growing employees from within starts with employees who become interested in what you do and how you do it. That interest can sprout at the entry level of your labor pool. Be sure not to leave anyone out when you’re holding any of these internal events.

I realize all this internal marketing seems like a lot of extra work. It is. But ask yourself — what could your company be missing by not earning employee buy-in?

Leslie (CPH) owns Halleck Horticultural, LLC, through which she provides horticultural consulting, business and marketing strategy, product development and branding, and content creation for green industry companies.