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Big Brand Boom


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 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.”

Brands That Speak to Kids

Increasingly, produce companies are considering the health and needs of the nation’s youngest shoppers by delivering branded products that entice kids and their parents to add more fresh fruits and vegetables to their diets.

Crunch Pak was one of the companies leading the charge. “We made the commitment to focus on kids as part of our branding initiatives,” says Freytag. The company’s co-branding efforts with Disney, Marvel Entertainment, the National Basketball Association, and Major League Baseball’s Yankees have resonated with kids across the country.

“We are committed to making healthy eating more fun for kids,” asserts Freytag. “Our labels and products vary to create excitement on the shelf. That creates interest for the shopper and generates repeat business.”

One of the produce industry’s most significant branding efforts related to kids has been the Sesame Street Eat Brighter! campaign, forged by Sesame Workshop and Produce Marketing Association (PMA) in 2013.

Los Angeles-based Giumarra Nogales will offer seedless Nature’s Partner watermelon from Mexico featuring Sesame Street Eat Brighter! artwork later this month. High in vitamins C and A, watermelon is a healthful, kid-friendly fruit. Each individual Nature’s Partner watermelon will include a peel-off label with information about the fruit and a recipe for a cupcake-shaped watermelon snack.

“We are offering large Sesame Street Eat Brighter! bins as an added benefit for our retail partners, and they really stand out at store level,” says Gil Munguia, division manager of Giumarra Nogales. The high-graphic bins feature Big Bird and Elmo, as well as the Nature’s Partner brand identity.

Private Label

Store brands are also trending like never before. “A lot of existing space has been allocated to private label,” notes Spezzano. “In center store, private label increases margins, but not necessarily in produce, where private label replaces an existing brand,” he adds.

One of the drivers of the private label trend, according to Spezzano, is that Wall Street looks at supermarkets with more private label products as more successful.

Tristan Simpson, chief communications officer at Ready Pac Foods Inc., in Irwindale, Calif., also sees movement on the private label front. “Hispanic consumers in particular are becoming a major purchasing force in the ever-changing retail landscape and are influential in how retailers drive brand engagement,” she notes. “Mintel reports in its 2014 ‘Attitudes Toward Private Label’ report that store brands resonate with loyal Hispanic shoppers, who are more likely than other groups to share their positive experiences by word of mouth.”

“Both branded and private label are growing, but with growing consumer loyalty to recognized brands, branded produce will continue to be a major presence in the fresh produce section,” adds Simpson.

Branded Convenience

Consumers are looking for produce brands that offer flavor, nutrition and that ever-important demand, convenience.

“Convenience gives branded produce a major advantage over bulk,” affirms Simpson. “Consumers want more produce in their diet, but they are busy. Ready Pac’s first-ever vegan Bistro Bowl — the Organic Powerhouse Grains Bistro Bowl — is an example of how we’re giving consumers the freedom to make healthy choices.”

The Organic Powerhouse Grains Bistro Bowl features a blend of organic spring mix, topped with organic quinoa and wheat berries, organic sliced carrots and red cabbage, organic raisins, and crunchy sliced almonds, with a zesty orange vinaigrette dressing.

“The Powerhouse Bistro Bowl gives consumers the chance to more easily incorporate health benefits of superfoods into their daily life,” notes Simpson, who adds that Ready Pac developed the product based on consumer demand for protein-rich options.

“Mintel reported in the 2014 ‘Fruit and Vegetables’ report that two in 10 respondents say ‘they are trying to get more of their protein from plant sources,’ which is why we’ve expanded our offerings to include more plant-based protein sources,” she says.


Produce doesn’t need millions in marketing dollars behind it to sell. Storytelling on packages and even a code that links to a website on a label can build a brand.

“Branding through packaging is extremely important,” says Spezzano, who notes that more produce companies are investing in packaging that boosts brand recognition, carefully considering the style, colors, size of graphics and font used on their packaging.

“Use packaging to promote that an item came from a small family farm, that it’s organic, that it’s non-GMO,” Spezzano counsels these companies. “Use the package to shout out those points of differentiation.”

He points to new varieties of apples that growers and supermarkets are promoting successfully. While sales in the apple category have increased slightly, dollar sales are up even more. This, according to Spezzano, is the result of new, more flavorful apple varieties that growers are labeling effectively.

“The number of apples selling for $2.98 a pound is increasing,” he observes. “Consumers are willing to pay more for more flavorful apple varieties, and we’re seeing PLU stickers on these apples, which give a little room to tell the story, or provide a web address or code on a sign that lets the consumer know where to learn more.”

Additionally, companies are telling the story of their produce brands in weekly circulars. “It’s still a powerful vehicle,” says Spezzano, who adds that while Millennials don’t necessarily read circulars that come in the mail, they’ll pick them up in-store or use an electronic version as they shop the supermarket.

Heirloom and Specialty

Family-owned Ocean Mist Farms, Castroville, Calif., which started out growing fresh artichokes and Brussels sprouts in 1924, is now the largest and only year-round grower of fresh artichokes in North America.

Last year, the company embarked on a major branding effort to spotlight the classic green globe artichoke — the original variety of artichoke brought to California in the early 1900s by Italian immigrants. As multiple new varieties of artichokes entered the market, Ocean Mist saw the classic green globe getting lost due to its vague name, lack of marketing, and not being identified or labeled at the point of sale.

To strengthen the brand identity of its artichokes, Ocean Mist began using the word “Heirloom” instead of green globes in its marketing campaigns. The green globe is an heirloom variety because it’s a perennial plant regrown with original rootstock that dates back as far as the 1920s at Ocean Mist.

In an effort to build brand awareness directly with retailers and consumers, for the first time in 90 years, all Ocean Mist Farms Heirloom artichokes harvested were branded with a red PLU/UPC sticker to help consumers find the variety in stores.

Ocean Mist supported the new branding by offering sales tools to retailers, as well as launching a multifaceted promotional strategy during harvest that included display contests, radio ads, in-store point of sale, display bins, and artichoke petal inserts and direct-to-consumer promotions that told the family farm story.

“Consumers want to feel a connection to the food they purchase, and brands help them to do that,” asserts Joan Wickham, of Sunkist Growers Inc., in Sherman Oaks, Calif. “Opportunities for more creative packaging, displays and point-of-sale materials in the produce department allow companies to share branding and educational information with consumers to help build this connection.”

When it comes to branded citrus trends, Wickham sees the farm-to-table story, as well as specialty varieties, resonating with shoppers like never before. “Consumers are increasingly exposed to global cuisine and are open to trying new things, thereby increasing interest in specialty varieties that offer unique taste profiles, like the Cara Cara navel orange, Meyer lemons and Minneola tangelos,” she explains.

In addition to a microsite,, featuring information about the families comprising its cooperative, Sunkist offers customizable point-of-sale materials to retailers interested in showcasing the growers in their stores.

“Our very specific intent is that we need more brands, innovation, and thoughtful ways of considering consumers and how they consume produce.”
—Todd Putman, Bolthouse Farms

“We made the commitment to focus on kids as part of our branding initiatives.”
—Tony Freytag, Crunch Pak

“Branding through packaging is extremely important.”
—Dick Spezzano, Spezzano Consulting Service Inc.

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