Thursday, November 7, 2013

Broccoli Wars

In its most recent Sunday magazine, The New York Times published a feature on the lowly broccoli market, asking a team of associates at ad agency Victors & Spoils how it would get people to buy and eat the begrudged vegetable. After some brief market research, the team’s strategy director summed up their initial findings on broccoli’s current market position: “It’s overlooked and left behind. It doesn’t matter in our culture. It has lost its confidence, succumbed to bullying and pressure. It’s content being on the sidelines.”  

And so the quest to rebrand and reposition broccoli began. With it comes a prime (if lighthearted) opportunity to apply competitive analysis techniques presented in the HBS Marketer’s Toolkit, in an effort to better understand the industry dynamics impacting the broccoli market. First is to consider the competitive arena in which broccoli plays. The U.S. produce industry is a highly dynamic arena, with a multitude of products available that address similar needs as the vegetable in question—namely, sustenance and nutrition. Within the produce industry, the New York Times reports that broccoli currently ranks 20th among vegetables. According to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, the supply of broccoli is becoming more concentrated, with fewer farms producing larger amounts and an increasing focus on the value-added fresh sector (products like pre-cut florets, broccoli coleslaw, etc.). While broccoli demand has for the most part steadily increased in the last 20 years, prices paid to suppliers have declined, creating a disincentive compared with other crops that yield both high demand and higher prices.

Heeding McKinsey’s advice not to dismiss the effect of trends and sub-trends on an industry, changes in U.S. demographics and health conditions do or likely will impact the produce industry, and therefore should be carefully considered when crafting a strategy to make broccoli a success. Take, for example, the fact that diet is now the top risk factor for death and disease in the United States. Or that 1 in 3 adults are clinically obese. Consider that 5% of Americans under the age of 50 actually eat the USDA’s recommended daily amount of vegetables. Then add in the fact that the nation’s average age is getting older. Combined with the competitive landscape of the current produce industry, these trends suggest growth areas exist for the heart-health, nutrient-rich broccoli, if only it can reposition itself and leverage those opportunities. 

In the fictitious campaign crafted by Victors & Spoils, ultimately the proposed marketing strategy was not to harp on health benefits, but to try to rebrand broccoli to be as enticing as its sleeker, sexier counterparts—to take a page from the processed food playbook, and hype up the image the vegetable since, as the chief marketing officer noted, “It is just a flower.” But from a (slightly) more serious point of view, if you were advising the broccoli growers of the country (most of which are in California and Arizona), what would you suggest? Given the competitive landscape, and national and global trends, how should this product approach the years ahead in order to achieve market success? 


Agricultural Marketing Resource Center. "Broccoli Profile," April 2012.

Becker, Wendy and Vanessa Freeman. "Going from Global Trends to Corporate Strategy," McKinsey Quarterly, 2006. 

Harvard Business School. "Competitor Analysis: Understand Your Opponents," Marketer's Toolkit, 2006.
Michael, Moss. "Broccoli's Extreme Makeover," The New York Times,  November 3, 2013.

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