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New product winners and losers: Unexpected challenges

As if launching a new product isn’t hard enough, the fickle nature of fresh produce makes hitting a moving target even more of a challenge.

Consider Flower Sprouts, a pint-sized cross between kale, the “it” vegetable of the 2010s, and Brussels sprouts, another vegetable enjoying market resurgence thanks to recipe innovations that took it from staid, mushy side dish to crispy pub fare.

Developed by United Kingdom-based Tozer Seeds, Flower Sprouts garnered the coveted Fruit Logistica Innovation Award in 2013.

They were rebranded as Kalettes for the U.S. market launch, and the mainstream media push started ahead of its commercial launch in 2014.

But growers didn’t have an easy time of it.

“I think, looking back at how Kalettes were launched is a great learning lesson,” says Gina Nucci, former co-owner and director of marketing for Salinas, CA-based Mann Packing Company, Inc. BB #:114946 prior to its sale to Del Monte Fresh Produce N.A., Inc. {{BB #:111187} in 2018.

“Consumers wanted the product and were seeing it in magazines before it was available.”

Having the seed company handle pre-launch marketing with a network of five growers handling production created additional headaches.

“It was a brand-new vegetable that was very difficult to grow,” Nucci says. “It was challenging, to say the least.”

This was especially unfortunate given that the product was both delicious and popular, but due to the difficulties of producing it, “it’s nowhere to be found.”

Even one of the most successful new products on the market has its own challenges with a fickle Mother Nature.

I can remember the first time I encountered Sumo Citrus at the Berkeley Bowl grocery store in Berkeley, CA. What was this massive mandarin, and why hadn’t I seen it before?

The brand was launched more than a decade ago, and only recently—over the past three years—has it had significant volume.

Sumo Citrus is not-so-jokingly called the world’s “most pampered” fruit because it is notoriously difficult to grow.

“There are many challenges to growing Sumo Citrus, so it took years of work with our farmers,” comments Sunnia Gull, director of brand management for San Francisco-based AC Brands, which handles the marketing for Sumo Citrus.

“Even now, Mother Nature is at the head of the table and can throw surprises our way every season,” Gull says.

This is an excerpt from the cover story of the September/October 2021 issue of Produce Blueprints Magazine. Click here to read the whole issue.

Pamela Riemenschneider is Retail Editor for Blue Book Services