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Hungry for Half the Plate


While shoppers choose where to buy groceries based on the freshness and quality of the produce department, the vast majority of them are still falling short of consuming the recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables.

In “The Power of Produce 2016: An In-depth look at Produce Trough the Shoppers’ Eyes,” Food Marketing Institute (FMI) found that most shoppers readily admit to not eating enough fresh produce, and 75 percent report that they’re trying to eat more fruits and vegetables.

The study, published by Arlington, Va.-based FMI and prepared by San Antonio-based 210 Analytics, reveals tremendous opportunities in the fresh produce business.

To seize those opportunities, grocers, suppliers and industry organizations alike are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their efforts to drive greater consumption of fruits and vegetables.

“We have a job ahead of us, if we’re ever going to get to half of the plate — our goal,” says Kathy Means, VP of industry relations for the Produce Marketing Association (PMA), in Newark, Del. “We’ve got a long way to go. But we look at it as an opportunity. What other food can say you should double consumption?”

Means, who sees many reasons for optimism when it comes to boosting fruit and veggie intake, points to the success of a number of high-profile marketing campaigns in the fresh produce industry.

“We often think about produce as a monolith, but it isn’t,” she asserts. “We’re in an industry where we’re competing against soda, chips and candy. It requires marketing to sell it.”

One of the industry’s notable branding efforts has been the “Sesame Street” Eat Brighter! campaign, introduced by Sesame Workshop and PMA in 2013. The program, which has about 60 supplier participants and 60 retailers (representing 30,000 stores) licensed to use the “Sesame Street” assets, will run through 2018.

According to PMA, suppliers report sales are up consistently by 3 percent year over year.

But Eat Brighter is just one of a number of highly successful campaigns in fresh produce. “We continue to see greater sophistication in marketing from the produce industry,” affirms Means, who points to the campaigns of brands like Wonderful Halos, Cuties, Wonderful Pistachios, and Avocados from Mexico with its 2016 Super Bowl commercial.

Means also applauds the Irvine-based California Avocado Commission for promoting avocados at breakfast, thereby expanding the fruit’s eating occasions. “Even established brands like Sunkist, Del Monte and Chiquita are placing greater emphasis on ad tie-ins and social media — all of those things are important to growing the industry,” she says.

Big-budget Success

Los Angeles-based Wonderful Co. made produce history when it committed to spending $100 million over five years in support of its Wonderful Halos brand. According to Adam Cooper, VP of marketing and insights for Wonderful Citrus and Wonderful Pistachios & Almonds, the company spent more than $100 million across the Wonderful portfolio last year, and will surpass that investment this year.

New “360 campaigns” including print, television, public relations, billboards, digital media and free-standing inserts (FSIs) will debut in October for both Wonderful Halos and Wonderful Pistachios.

“We’re now in year three of the Halo campaign, and it continues to be the No. 1 brand in the category,” says Cooper, adding, “Wonderful Halos has helped to make mandarins an over-a-billion-dollar category.”

He attributes the campaign’s success in part to the company’s in-store support, including a variety of POS and merchandising bins, which reinforce the national advertising campaign at the store level.

“Wonderful has transformed everyday commodities into household brands through creative marketing on TV and in-store,” asserts Dominic Engels, president of POM Wonderful.

For the second consecutive year, POM Wonderful has sponsored the “American Ninja Warrior” television program. “While we can’t directly attribute sales spikes to our involvement with ‘American Ninja Warrior’,” says Engels, “our 100 percent juice products are up 24 percent in all channels.”

Educational Campaigns That Sell

When Salinas, Calif.-based D’Arrigo Bros. wanted to raise awareness for its Andy Boy Broccoli Rabe, it hired a PR firm, ad agency, celebrity chef and nutritionist to position the superfood as the next kale. The next thing the company knew, The Wall Street Journal had picked up the story, and broccoli rabe has been gaining momentum ever since.

The impetus for the campaign was the realization that most broccoli rabe customers were older, and it had an old-school image. “We realized that if we wanted to stay popular, we needed to market to Millennials,” says Claudia Pizarro-Villalobos, marketing and culinary manager for D’Arrigo Bros.

D’Arrigo thus created a convenient value-added broccoli rabe SKU that’s washed, chopped and ready to eat in an 11-ounce bag.

While the first year of the campaign was focused on education about the health benefits and versatility of broccoli rabe, the second year will take a more grass-roots approach at the retail level, notes Pizzaro-Villalobos.

Frieda’s Produce Inc., based in Los Alamitos, Calif., has encouraged the greater consumption of produce, from the exotic to the everyday, for decades.

To move the needle on fresh produce consumption, Frieda’s President and CEO Karen Caplan believes that convenience is key. “Pre-cut and sliced veggies always help, plus easy menu ideas at point of sale,” she advises. “Another way to increase the sales is to group all the pre-cut convenient items near checkout or in the ‘takeout’ section of the store, to make it easy for the shoppers.”

Upping Eating Occasions

Campaigns that encourage consumers to eat a particular produce item at more meal occasions can help nudge the nation closer to half the plate.

With that in mind, the National Watermelon Promotion Board, in Winter Springs, Fla., is currently promoting the Watermelon Every Day program, and features the many uses of watermelon year-round on its website.

“In retail, we partnered with the shopping app Ibotta in 2015, and our campaign partnership with them resulted in over 200,000 completed engagements and over 5 million impressions in three weeks,” says Juliemar Rosado, director of retail operations and international marketing.

In addition to its annual retail display contest in July and August, the board is running a #100days-of watermelon consumer contest on Instagram. “So far, the response has been great to both,” notes Rosado. “Social media enhances our ability to reach more individuals.”

In-store, sampling watermelon is one of the most effective ways to entice consumers to purchase. “Using them in recipes showcases their versatility,” adds Rosado, who says that the entire watermelon can be consumed. To prove it, the board offers a tasty recipe for slaw made from the rind.

Culinary Convenience

Inserra Supermarkets, which owns and operates 22 ShopRite stores in New Jersey and New York, is taking a multifaceted approach to encouraging its customers to eat more fruits and vegetables.

Its new Meal of the Week program aims to help people serve nutritious meals more often. Stores feature a different, easy-to-prepare recipe weekly, and then merchandise all of the ingredients together in a refrigerated case. Inserra has introduced the program in more than a dozen of its stores, with plans for further expansion later this year.

“We’ve had a lot of positive customer feedback for Meal of the Week,” says Dana McLaughlin, the retail dietitian for Inserra’s ShopRite in Wallington, N.J. “They really appreciate the diversity of the recipes, and we make sure that there’s two different vegetables in each recipe, and different proteins.” Vegetarian recipes are also popular.

“Convenience is the biggest factor,” notes McLaughlin. “Customers can purchase all the ingredients in one area, and often the produce may already be partially prepared, like an onion that’s diced.” In the Wallington store, coolers featuring the Meal of the Week ingredients are stationed between the produce and meat departments.

“The No. 1 comment we hear from customers is their lack of time to prepare produce, particularly with vegetables,” says McLaughlin, one of a team of dietitians who work at 10 Inserra ShopRite stores. “A big part of changing that is education and encouraging simple ways to include fruits and vegetables in their diet.”

Inserra ShopRite stores also demo a Produce Pick each week. “We feature a fruit or vegetable in the ShopRite circular and offer handouts that we give to customers looking for new ideas,” explains McLaughlin. The handouts offer tips on purchasing, preparing and storing a different fruit or veggie each week.

“Our goal with customers is to get them to try one new fruit or vegetable each week,” says McLaughlin. “It’s a very reachable goal and encourages a gradual increase in consumption.”

“Pre-cut and sliced veggies always help, plus easy menu ideas at point of sale.”
–Karen Caplan, Frieda’s Produce

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