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    Branded Produce: Fresh Produce's Big Brand Boom

    Fresh fruits & veggies' most dynamic era is now

    By Jennifer Strailey

    Not long ago, few would have envisioned consumers seeking out a particular brand of avocados at the supermarket, let alone a 30-second spot advertising Avocados from Mexico during the Super Bowl.

    Nor would they have predicted that McDonald’s would roll out Happy Meals featuring a whole, fresh-fruit option, namely Cuties, from Pasadena, Calif.-based Sun Pacific, which is what scores of children and their parents now call mandarins.

    “The majority of consumers think of Cuties as they do Jell-O or Kleenex — the name is synonymous with mandarins,” asserts Dick Spezzano, of Spezzano Consulting Service Inc., in Monrovia, Calif. “All mandarins are Cuties. That’s true branding.” Sun Pacific has since launched Mighties, a similar branded campaign for kiwifruit.

    “We’re seeing more and more of that,” Spezzano says. “Most new items in produce are not only branded, but packaged — berries, tomatoes — they’re all packaged. It’s part of their go-to-market strategy. Packaging provides the room to promote and brand the product, as well as control volume.”

    Spezzano further notes that the bigger budgets of some produce companies have ushered in a new era of how consumers perceive and shop for produce. He points to Pom Wonderful and Wonderful Pistachios — two breakout brands from Roll Global, in Los Angeles, parent company of Paramount Farms — that have turned commodities into brands with enormously healthy appeal.

    Indeed, Wonderful Halos launched the largest marketing campaign to date in the citrus industry in 2013, committing to spend a record $100 million over five years, with $20 million spent the first year alone.

    And now a new campaign is underway that, according to Todd Putman, chief commercial officer of Bakersfield, Calif.-based Bolthouse Farms, “will change the way people think about fruit and vegetables.”

    “Our very specific intent is that we need more brands, innovation, and thoughtful ways of considering consumers and how they consume produce,” says Putman, adding that Bolthouse is part of a group led by the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA), which is working on a soon-to-debut fruit and vegetable campaign “that will feel similar to the Got Milk? campaign,” he notes (see Progressivegrocer.com/brandedproduce for details).

    Washington, D.C.-based PHA, which is devoted to solving the childhood obesity crisis, was founded in 2010 in conjunction with, but independent from, First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s

    Move! initiative. Bolthouse believes that encouraging Americans and their children to eat more produce is integral to that solution.

    “Per capita consumption of produce has been flat to down. People are not eating enough fresh produce,” says Putman. “But the consumer is radically changing: 2 percent to 4 percent of Baby Boomers are vegetarians, and 14 percent to 18 percent of Millennials are vegetarians. There’s a wave of people moving to a plant-based diet, and that wave is coming to the produce department.”

    Both produce suppliers and supermarkets are poised to ride this wave to increased sales, provided they deliver the healthful, convenient and flavorful foods consumers seek.

    “We need to think about marketing and branding in much the same way larger food folks have been doing for years,” advises Putman.

    Tony Freytag, SVP sales and marketing for Crunch Pak, in Cashmere, Wash., agrees: “The move towards more pre-packaged, value-added convenience produce is changing the branding landscape as produce moves out of being an interactive purchase experience of bulk produce and moves closer to packaged food marketing.”

    With innovation in mind, Bolthouse recently introduced Bolthouse Farms Kids, a line of refrigerated fruit- and veggie-based snacks, including Smoothies, Fruit Tubes and Veggie Snackers. Putman notes that in the next several months, Bolthouse will launch more products that “fall along a similar line.”

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