Australian citrus needs to target new buyers

Citrus May 24, 2023

Forget about appealing to loyal or niche customers – the only way to consistently sell more citrus fruit is to nudge those who rarely buy it, and make it easier for them to pop it in their trolley more often, according to Hort Innovation general manager of marketing Kylie Hudson.

Ms Hudson said about 39 per cent of Australian citrus was sold fresh – most through retail channels – while 32 per cent was exported and 29 per cent processed.

Consumer data showed an overall decline in the volume of fresh fruit bought last year, with the exception of grapes, which increased 8.8 per cent, mangoes (up 8.7 per cent), citrus (up 2.7 per cent) and bananas (up 1.7 per cent).

Ms Hudson said the modest growth in citrus sales volumes was driven by oranges: about 26 per cent were sold fresh on the domestic market, with 82 per cent through retail and 16 per cent to food service.

To maintain baseline sales in any given year, she said it was necessary to build a funnel with consumers at different stages of the marketing journey.

Research showed campaigns focused on acquiring new customers instead of loyalty were almost twice as effective at driving gains in market share.

And sales data from huge companies, such as Coca Cola, shows about half of buyers bought the soft drink only once or twice a year.

“Whether you’re a big brand or a small brand the phenomenon is the same because you can’t rely on those very loyal consumers to prop up your volume,” she said.

“They are a nice thing to have. I’ve worked on many brands that have fanatical loyalists that tattooed themselves with the Bundy Bear or VB logo. But that doesn’t happen very often, and we can’t rely on those consumers to drive the growth sustainably of our brands.”

Ms Hudson said market penetration for citrus was similar to other fruits, but Australian consumers bought citrus 15.4 times a year, which was less often than bananas (29.1 times), berries (18.6 times) and apples (16.9 times).

Light and medium citrus buyers were actually found to buy bananas two to five times as often as citrus.

Ms Hudson said analysis showed these buyers were fairly evenly spread across most demographics. “So we need to continuously reach all buyers of the category in order to impact this number,” she said.

“Essentially that means being highly present in the marketplace … because that provides the greatest opportunity to drive long term growth. And we need to stay competitive, which means that we need to broadly appeal to households of all types and sizes.”

Speaking about Hort Innovation’s research and development priorities, general manager of production and sustainability R&D Dr Anthony Kachenko said the Citrus Fund had invested more than $4.7 million in the Strategic Investment Plan in 2021-22.

The lion’s share, 60.6 per cent, went to protecting the production base, followed by 15.6 per cent on market optimisation R&D and 14.2 per cent on communication, extension and capability.

“Unfortunately, Australia has lagged in terms of R&D investment,” he said.

“We spend about 1.7 per cent of our gross domestic value and when you look across Oceania we’re way down the bottom against other countries. So we’re not investing enough in both public and private research.”

After two “terrible” years, Dr Kachenko said building grower resilience would continue to be a focus, as would maintaining the industry’s trustworthy reputation here and abroad, and investing in environmental, social and governance (ESG) in recognition of the growing importance of sustainability to consumers when making purchases.

Hort Innovation also was investing in educational programs to help the next generation understand where their food comes from, new product development and research into agtech, protected cropping and alternative methods of pollinating crops that have traditionally relied on honeybees, he said.

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