By Olivia Tait
The launch of the ‘Now in Season’ program, an initiative targeting South East Asia with a focus on the promotion of horticulture across the retail channel, demonstrates the power of true collaboration.
The ‘Now in Season’ program was developed by the Victorian Government to coordinate a promotional program for Australian pome and stone fruit, cherries, citrus and table grapes in selected countries across the ASEAN region under the Australian brand.
With funding support solicited from each of the participating peak industry bodies (including APAL), Horticulture Innovation Australia Ltd and the Victorian Government, the program ran a rolling schedule of activities throughout April and May 2015, across Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines, with strong in-market support provided by the Australian Government through Austrade and Morelink (a private company).
This multi-sector, multi-region approach highlights the economies of scale that can be derived from working together under the one promotional banner and helps strengthen the overall presence and foothold of Australian produce in the retail market.
The schedule of events for the launch of the ‘Now in Season’ program was well conceived and brilliantly executed by each of the in-country resources. We attended launch events in retail stores and off-site, met with Filipino bloggers and journalists, appeared on the Good Morning Philippines TV program, met with Australian and overseas Government officials, discussed market access issues, visited many retail stores, wholesale markets and cold store facilities, attended the Food and Hotel Indonesia trade exhibition and experienced Songkran, the Thai New Year. Thanks to the Victorian Government for organising the program and successfully promoting ‘Now in Season’ Australian fruit.
Evolving and changing market access conditions throughout South East Asia have affected where, when, how and if our growers can export fruit. It appears that favourable market access negotiations move at a glacial speed yet we can be denied access virtually overnight.
For this reason, it’s more important than ever to invest in markets where we have access, can favourably trade and there is a genuine willingness and desire to procure produce of Australian origin.
Whilst the demand is there, competition from New Zealand, South Africa, South America and China highlights the fact that Australia cannot simply depend on proximity to market and a clean, green, healthy image to maintain and grow market share.
The key project objectives focus on increasing consumption, the profile of and exposure to Australian fruit in targeted priority markets, whist developing long-term sustainable relationships with importers and retailers.
Market profile and insights
The Thai fresh produce market is enjoying rapid growth due to high demand from the retail, food service and food manufacturing sectors. Thailand is the region’s food manufacturing hub, catering to both the domestic and international markets. There has been an increasing demand for quality raw materials, particularly for export markets, which have high food standards. The market for imported produce is expanding due to changing consumption patterns and increasing income levels of Thai consumers. Many key retailers have imported fresh produce sections all year round to serve this rising consumer group.
Domestic tropical produce is also very popular, as it is suited to local tastes and retails at significantly lower prices when compared to imported produce. However, changes in climatic conditions are resulting in inconsistent production of seasonal domestic produce and higher domestic prices, creating a wider window of opportunity for imported produce.
Generally, domestic produce is in season during the summer, April to June, which often means a drop in the purchase of imported produce by Thai consumers. However, major supermarkets, especially those catering to middle-high income earners, carry imported produce all year round.
Based on the current combination of consumer preferences and competitors, the Thai market is particularly receptive to Australian table grapes, mandarins, summer fruit, apples and pears.
Key factors that make these and other fresh produce exports from Australia attractive for Thai importers and consumers include:
- Australia is seen is a ‘clean and green’ destination and buyers have expectations that the produce will yield better quality, a longer shelf life and have a better taste when compared to imported produce from other countries.
- Greater awareness among Thai consumers regarding food safety issues – Australia is perceived as a quality supply source due to the low usage of chemicals in the production process.
- Australia’s relatively close proximity to Thailand allows for a short shipment time that maintains the quality and freshness of produce.
- The Thailand-Australia Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) gives many Australian produce items a competitive advantage over produce imported from other countries.
Produce from the USA has been exported and heavily marketed in Thailand for many years. As buyers gain a greater understanding of the counter seasonality of produce from the northern and southern hemispheres, they can plan to source a full year’s supply of fresh produce from all over the world.
Produce that can be supplied from a single country all year round, alongside factors such as quality, price competitiveness, supply consistency and the buyer/exporter relationship, are important in Thailand.
China still supplies large volumes of fresh produce to Thailand due to its competitive pricing, but as food safety awareness is becoming an increasingly important factor in purchasing, Chinese produce is being replaced with produce perceived to be ‘cleaner and greener’.
Australia faces strong competition from other southern hemisphere countries such as Peru, Chile, South Africa and New Zealand. It is important to provide support to retailers for promotional activities, to generate awareness of Australian fresh produce. This helps establish it ahead of competitors and places it top-of-mind amongst consumers.
My first impressions of the Thai market:
- The Thai retail market is very sophisticated, with strong merchandising disciplines from the basic cash and carry through to the top end stores.
- Many of the high end stores, of which there a many, far exceed what we have in Australia and the quality of the merchandise/fruit is equally as impressive.
- The fruit category in Thailand is substantial with significant footprints and commands prime retail space in the store, with disciplined and enticing visual merchandising and value adding.
- Australia = Clean and Green; this association is inferred. In terms of the consumer message hierarchy, health and nutrition is hugely important, followed by premium quality (sweet taste, crunchy texture), safety and freshness.
- Customers take the time to shop for fruit and it’s a considered purchase – picking up the fruit, inspecting it, smelling it.
- There is a great selection of pre-prepared fruit packs and strong co-merchandising with complimentary grocery products (juice, dried fruit).
- The coolstore facilities we visited were impressive, both in terms of scale and standard.
- The fresh fruit wholesale market presents a good opportunity for promotion.
- There is a strong feeling of goodwill to Australia and Australian products.
- The key market access issue for Thailand relates to the acceptance of mixed containers and the ability to action on-shore processing in approved facilities.
The Philippines is a market of considerable size. With a population of 97.5 million, food consumption in 2013 was valued at US$39.7 billion, forecasted to grow to US$54 billion in 2017.
There is an increasing level of consumer confidence and stability in government, resulting in an increase in domestic consumption and consumer spending on affordable luxuries. Consumer products and retail is moving from selling based on price point alone to selling based on aspirational branding and lifestyle propositions. There is a renewed focus by consumer business companies (especially fast moving consumer goods) to make capital investments in the Philippines after many years of stagnant growth. Trade spend and the fight for on-shelf space intensifies as more companies invest in bringing new product into a revitalised growing market.
Whilst the bulk of the retail action takes place in Metro Manila, which has an estimated 15-20 million consumers of imported products, supermarket retailing is also growing in key cities in Cebu, Bacolod and Iloilo. There is an increasing shift to food shopping at hypermarkets and supermarkets versus the traditional wet market format.
Since 2011, there has been continuous growth in Australia’s fruit exports to the Philippines. Admittedly, this has been off a low base, but Australian grapes and citrus have moved from less than 200 tonnes in exports in 2011 to over 1,000 tonnes in 2013. Australia has exported some pears into this market but to date the volume has been negligible.
With the launch of the ‘Now In Season’ promotion, several of the major supermarkets in the Philippines; Market Place by Rustan’s, Robinsons Supermarket, S&R Shopping (Costco equivalent), Shopwise by Rustan’s SM Supermarket, C-Store, Metro and FamilyMart, all supported the initiative with prominent product displays and the use of dedicated point of sale material. All in-store activities were supported by a sampling and tasting program. This element is particularly important for the pear category, where the European pear isn’t as well known or sought after.
Produce from the USA has been exported and heavily marketed in the Philippines for many years. There is a strong allegiance to the USA and the adoption of US eating culture is prevalent across the country; in supermarkets and in food service. Australia is more of an unknown entity, so grass roots marketing promoting Australia as the home of clean and green, safe and healthy produce is critical to build customer trust, loyalty and to capture the consumer spend.
China supplies large volumes of fresh produce to the Philippines with competitive price points and other southern hemisphere countries such as Peru, Chile, South Africa and New Zealand also have a visible presence.
My first impressions of the Philippine market:
- The standard of retailing, from the cash and carrys to the supermarkets were of a high standard.
- Country of origin labelling and identifying provenance is a hit and miss affair.
- Fruit and vegetable displays take up a significant amount of floor space in each of the retail formats.
- The top three imported fruits eaten by Filipinos are citrus, grapes and apples.
- The use of health claims as a selling and marketing tool becomes more overt in retail stores, e.g. “Fruit and vegetables may reduce the risk of heart attacks and certain cancers.”
- Whilst there is a pull towards American imports, Filipinos are open to learning and trying different varieties of fruits from other markets.
- Educating customers on how to pick, store and prepare a pear is necessary in this market as Filipinos are not used to this fruit.
- Pears need to be green and crunchy but also sweet.
- Social media reigns supreme in this market.
With a population exceeding 240 million, it is estimated that Indonesia has 90 million people that will be rated as ‘consumer class’ by 2030. In terms of size, the Indonesian market is very attractive – Indonesia is the world’s 4th most populous country and the 10th largest agricultural producer. Logistically and politically however, there are significant challenges ahead.
The increasing awareness of Indonesia’s middle class about the health and nutritional benefits of fresh fruit and vegetables as part of a balanced diet is becoming more entrenched in everyday eating habits. This trend is also being accelerated by improved supply chains and the ease of access to modern retail facilities (such as supermarkets in urban areas), which allow for improved storage of fresh produce thus making previously unavailable varieties of fruit and vegetables available to consumers.
Imported fresh fruits and vegetables make up an increasing share of fresh produce sales in Indonesia. In 2012 Indonesia imported 752,000 metric tonnes of fruit of which 42 per cent were apples, 29 per cent citrus and 8 per cent table grapes, reflecting local demand (Department of Agriculture). There is a perceived preference for imported fruit due to the superior quality and taste offered by imported produce in addition to the competitive pricing.
China is the leading source of vegetable imports, with Thailand and Myanmar also leading suppliers.
Currently, the Indonesian government is pursuing a model of self-sufficiency with the thinking being why do they need to import fruit when they grow a range of tropical fruit. Import quotas are being reduced. This directly effects apple importation, however, at this stage the importation of pears is not restricted by quotas. What this means for Indonesian customers is that they will start to see a lack of variety and volume of fruit in market as the local fruit production cannot fulfil the entire needs of the market. For fruit exporters to Indonesia, the middle-upper income bracket will continue to provide demand for their products while they may see more competition from local producers.
The ‘Now in Season’ promotion was supported by a number of stores in Indonesia: Ranch Market, Foodmart and Hypermarket. Both pears and apples were represented including Packham, Corella, Beurré Bosc, Kanzi®, Granny Smith, Gala and Red Delicious.
My first impressions of the Indonesian market;
- The standard of retailing, across all formats was high – generous aisles, large product displays, well lit and tight merchandise disciplines.
- Fruit and vegetable displays take up a significant amount of floor space in each of the retail formats.
- Health claims become more and more outlandish in this market, e.g. “Korean Pear – sweet and fresh Korean pear named ‘Singo’ has dietary fibres…so it is good for constipation. It is also a health product and has the effect of cleansing the heart and the lungs. It can also help to heal dry lips, phlegm and lower high temperature…” etc.
- The heirachy of messaging for Australia: clean and green, safe, product attributes – taste and texture, health and nutrition.
- Quotas exist for apple importation.
- In the pursuit of self-sustainability, all quotas are being reduced.
The overwhelming feedback from all markets is that Australian fruit is in demand (at the right price point), taste and texture is all important and in-store support, both staff training and consumer education, is a critical factor for success.