People power, peaches, and the strawberry...

September 30, 2018

People power, peaches, and the strawberry...

With the needle-in-the-strawberry fiasco resulting in the dumping of literally tonnes of delicious fruit as Australia grappled with the reality of food tampering, consumers have shown that people power is capable of swaying market share and saving the fortunes of producers when our national community puts its mind to it.

This is not the first time people have been galvanised into action to achieve an outcome that is not necessarily related to their own wellbeing. We have seen campaigns that have emptied supermarket fridges of branded milk, with consumers avoiding the cheap, home-branded product in an effort to increase the cash flow to dairy farmers facing financial ruin. I have friends who went out of their way to purchase more rockmelons than they ever to in an effort to boost the sales of rockmelon farmers forced to dump hours of work and income during the recent salmonella scare.

And who could forget the rallying of consumers to fill their trolleys with SPC Ardmona products when Coca Cola Amatil announced it was considering closing its Australian factory. A major purchaser of Australian fruit, the company is the reality of brands like IXL jams and Ardmona canned fruit, and has been retailing to the Australians since 1918. In 2014, the huge multinational company that now drives SPC announced the Australian company was struggling and closure was imminent. It was hardly surprising, given Coca Cola's size and access to resources, that the Federal Government refused to provide any financial assistance. But in Victoria, where the loss of the company's operations there would have such an impact on factory employees and farmers, the outcry and resulting community support for the iconic Australian brand resulted in the Victorian State Government providing $22 Million to the company. Combined with a $78 Million injection by Coca Cola, a clever business strategy callled Project 100, and a $70 million deal with supermarket giant Woolworths who committed to purchasing an extra 24,000 extra tonnes of produce, this concrete form of community support, driven by the demand of consumers, saved the company.

The SPC Ardmona deal wasn't just about saving the fortunes of the company, or the farmers who supplied it with food. Facing by high unemployment in Victoria, Premier Denis Napthine was under pressure to save the jobs of those who worked at the Shepparton plant. The state government's contribution was made on the condition that a minimum of 500 workers be employed on a full-time basis for at least three years. There was an important rider too: cash payments made under the deal were to be refunded if the company halted operations at Shepparton within five years.

Much of the success of "Operation Save SPC", however, has to be given to the Australian people. The company's sales changed track considerably in the months following the announcement that it was in trouble, with the company saying SPC’s sales had lifted 10 per cent in the quarter due to strong customer support after news broke of its trouble.

Just as social media campaigns are currently working on saving the strawberry, restoring it to its rightful place on the spring menu, people flocked to social media to save SPC. Branding agency Truly Deeply talks of the campaign started by Newcastle mother, Linda Drummond, who inspired what grew into a powerful social media campaign with a "simple tweet". As Truly Deeply says, "within days millions of social media users including celebrities and politicians were helping to boost sales for the company."

Linda's idea was to connect the brand with a classic Aussie pastime of peaches and ice-cream. SPC Sunday was born and,as they say, the "rest is history".

In an interview at the time with ABC Goulburn Murray’s morning program presenter Joseph Thomsen, Linda said "we thought, we need as many people as possible buying (SPC products) to make a real impact. So I just sent out a tweet saying ‘Hey guys, let’s have SPC Sunday and have peaches and ice cream for dessert’ and it just snowballed immediately, it immediately hit a nerve and people realised it was something they could do that could make a difference.”

Just as we are now seeing people sharing photos of strawberry sundaes and strawberry picking, photos of people whipping up creative fruit desserts were posted to social media. Only at this time the peach was the focus.

On the company's website, Truly Deeply strategy director and partner Michael Hughes describes how people shared photos of empty supermarket shelves where SPC products had sold out, and said that celebrities including Wiggles performer Anthony Field, comedian Meshel Laurie and Victorian Premier Denis Napthine joined the #SPCsunday movement.

"Australian patriotism was cleverly tapped into the campaign", he said.

In his piece, Hughes quoes Linda as saying “We’re a proud nation. We create things, we grow things, we manufacture things, we build things. We need to get behind that and the most basic thing we can do as a consumer is buy the Australian product.”

Hughes credited the success of this campaign to its origins.

"The urgency of the situation certainly played a part. But it was the authenticity of this campaign being started by a customer, not the company, that made the difference. This should provide a social media lesson for many brands," he said.

"SPC also released some promotional support and a clever tactical ad to help fuel the campaign along. But they kept the customer at the centre of the brand, simply saying ‘thank you’."

In the wake of the #SPCsunday movement, SPC Ardmona managing director Peter Kelly reported sales had increased by over 50 per cent.

I know that during that period I loaded my trolley with SPC tomatoes, IXL strawberry jam and the children switched to SPC Spaghetti as their treat of choice, just as we are now loading our trolleys with strawberries..

Just goes to show that when we put our minds to it, we can, as consumers, do amazing things. Which is why we are a force to be reckoned with. We can sway governments. We can sway huge multinational companies. We could, if we really wanted to, make the choices that we need to make to make ourselves and our children healthier and happier, our farmers income more stable and our environment healthier.

Which begs the question, why don't we? Every day should be a strawberry or peach sundae day. Every day we should appreciate the food we have. We are all very busy, all of the time, but these are the fundamental choices we make that have ripple effects all the way from the end of the fork to the farm, via our health and the ethics of food production and food security.

Who would have thought that eating could get so complicated, or that what we choose to buy could be so important to so many. I guess it this has always been the case, but we need reminding. What we buy matters.


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