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Introducing mini cucumbers into the Nature Sweet communities

"People connecting over food, that’s what it comes down to"

Aiming to become the single source solution for all your produce needs, NatureSweet is expanding its trusted brand to include new products, such as mini cucumbers. In the framework of celebrating 20 years of high wire cucumbers, BASF Vegetable Seeds spoke with Lori Castillo, VP Marketing at Nature Sweet, about their engagement with consumers and their associates as sources of inspiration for innovation.


Lori Castillo, NatureSweet 
 
For years, NatureSweet has focused on their assortment of small tomatoes. Since 2018, they have been expanding their portfolio to include branded cucumbers, peppers and large tomatoes. What started in 1990 with cherry on the vine tomatoes has grown into a leading company in their industry. The well-known NatureSweet brand is now exploring how to bring innovations with mini cucumber and peppers to market in a sustainable way.

“NatureSweet is a recognizable and trusted brand,” says Lori Castillo of NatureSweet. The company has been growing many types of tomatoes, and has now started growing the mini cucumber variety Beesan from BASF Vegetable Seeds. “By expanding our portfolio, we’re working towards our goal of becoming a single source solution that people look for. With NatureSweet, they know where our fruits and vegetables come from, that they are grown ethically, that they are nurtured and loved.”

Cucumbers and innovation
The NatureSweet marketing team is still researching what it is about cucumbers that makes them the most attractive to their consumer base. “The most important thing is to always keep the consumer at the forefront of what you do”, says Lori. Building trust in the value for money is key, so the company spends a lot of time testing responses to varieties. BASF Vegetable Seeds works alongside NatureSweet in trials and product development. “We have a lot to learn about the features and benefits that consumers like best. Taste comes first, always. Beyond that, how can we extend the value to customers? Is it crunch, transportability, shelf life? When we know what value consumers need, we will innovate,” says Lori.

Inspiration for innovation also comes directly from their associates. Priding themselves in strong internal engagement, they truly welcome all ideas from their associates, varying from recipes and promotions to ways to improve the supply chain efficiency. “We welcome ideas from the top down, ground up, from the sides, everyone has a voice. Because the people who work with it day after day, they know best. That’s the culture of our company: we embrace ideas from everyone. It’s okay to try something new. If it works, awesome. If it doesn’t, we’ll gather what we’ve learned and try again.”

Inspiration for innovation also comes directly from their associates. Priding themselves in strong internal engagement, they truly welcome all ideas from their associates, varying from recipes and promotions to ways to improve the supply chain efficiency. “We welcome ideas from the top down, ground up, from the sides, everyone has a voice. Because the people who work with it day after day, they know best. That’s the culture of our company: we embrace ideas from everyone. It’s okay to try something new. If it works, awesome. If it doesn’t, we’ll gather what we’ve learned and try again.”

From her experience in the cosmetics industry, Lori sees a lot of the same fundamentals apply to both industries. “You have to be convenient and distinctive.” By bringing new products into the market place under the NatureSweet brand, the company is hoping to entice their buyers to try something new. “Our red tomatoes, they love. They don’t buy our yellow or medley of tomatoes in the same frequency. To do so, they need more trust. For cucumbers, we have to build that base too, build trust in the product.” Because of the packaged goods, consumers have to trust the brand to deliver on the promise. “You can’t touch or smell it, like you maybe would traditionally when buying produce. To get the repeat purchase, we have to make sure that we are delivering on our promise if we’re going to ask a premium price.” Consumer engagement plays a defining role in creating that trust.

Consumer trend: traceability and connecting with farmers
Important trends in that area are traceability and ‘instagrammability’. During the recent pandemic, consumption of their produce went through the roof. “People are staying at home and are cooking more. What we see, is that consumers are placing more and more value into knowing where their food comes from, so that you trust and feel comfortable with it.” Transparency and traceability of the entire supply chain is an important promise for NatureSweet. “They want to know where their food comes from, and understand what goes into it. How it is grown, packed and shipped. They want to relate to their farmers.”

That’s where the associates play an important role in the NatureSweet marketing. Direct engagement with consumers is encouraged and the company is investing in digital connections. By offering digital and omnichannel experiences, people are using that opportunity to communicate with NatureSweet’s associates. “We get so many responses, mostly to associates directly. That’s how they know they’ve made an impact. That human connection is amazing.”


 
Instagrammability: your phone eats first
In marketing, NatureSweet has teamed up with dieticians to make the healthy features of their products even more tangible. “We’re always looking for new and fun ways to explain how our products can help. We share healthy recipes, for example. Also, there is the obvious trend of people taking pictures of their food. So we have to make sure that they know: ‘Yes, it’s healthy. But it also looks beautiful and is trendy for Instagram.’ That is very important to think about as we’re putting recipes and packaging together. Your phone does eat first.”

Castillo sees many opportunities for the marketing of mini cucumbers: “I think there is also a huge opportunity in snacking: you can eat them on the go, they are convenient and offer many health benefits. Showing consumers how to use cucumbers in other ways, might be an opportunity too. Now they are ‘stuck in a salad or by themselves’. There is a lot of space for that segment to really grow.”

Connecting over food
NatureSweet’s focus for the coming years will be to introduce their cucumbers to a growing audience and to ensure their community keeps working sustainably. And most importantly, whether it’s the connection with their associates, sharing food at the family table or the instagrammability of their produce, NatureSweet tries to keep increasing their value to consumers. “People connecting over food, that’s what it comes down to.”

For more information:
BASF
www.basf.com


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