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Nutrition Marketing Buoys Canned Fruit Sales

By Ginny Hair, principal & founder, Echo Communications

Thanks to the fruits of its labor, the California Cling Peach Board (CCPB) has uncovered how scientific research, when coupled with the right nutrition marketing, can shift shopper behavior and drive consumers to the canned fruit aisle. Building on a 2012 Oregon State University (OSU) study that concluded that canned peaches are nutritional comparable to fresh, the CCPB built a shopper activation campaign to increase the purchase of canned peaches at the retail level. The three-year research and marketing program developed and “road-tested” the viability of nutrition messaging with more than 2,800 canned fruit shoppers nationwide. The CCPB then took its science-backed/consumer-approved campaign to stores to measure whether such a message, coupled with educational sampling, could increase incremental sales. It did.

The research showed that 98 percent of consumers surveyed believed the positioning, “California Cling Peaches, the 100% Healthy Snack,” when supported by data highlighting harvesting practices and the OSU study.

Working with SaveMart and Lucky stores in Northern California and the Central Valley over the course of six weeks, the program delivered an average lift of 72 percent for the four SKUs that were tracked. Subsequently, store data reflected an average maintained sales lift of 71 percent for at least 30 days after the in-store program. Components of the in-store pilot program included educational posters, nutrition handouts, social media support, as well as an engaged and informed sampling team who reiterated the “on par with fresh” message.

For the past several years, California canned fruit sales at the retail level have steadily declined, thanks in part to cheaper imports, well-funded “fresh is best” marketing, and the rise of competing new snack foods.  Partnering with the Apricot Producers of California and funded by the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the “Promoting Healthy Fruits to Safeguard California’s Peach and Apricot Industries” program proved that shoppers will purchase peach or apricot cups and canned peaches or canned apricots more frequently when they understand the nutrition benefits of what’s in the can.

“What we learned was very simple, yet surprising,” says Peter Byrne, partner for Cognise Consulting, the firm that led the consumer research. “First, moms, not kids, are the number-one consumers. Second, we learned that canned and cupped peaches and apricots were being consumed, most often, as a snack. And finally, we heard that while moms love canned fruit and also serve it to their families, they crave nutritional information to support their decision.”

Per the grant proposal, the goal was to increase sales by 5-10 percent via a program that could be easily adopted and replicated by processors. “This program is not only significant because it far surpassed our original goal; this program is significant because it proves that science, when backed by a little nutrition marketing, can go a long way in increasing sales and generating excitement in a category that has been struggling,” says Bill Ferriera, president of the Apricot Producers of California.

Processors see the value in this data. “Our goal is to develop a very specific profile of people who are eating our products, how to connect with them in meaningful ways, and develop new items to fulfill their needs,” says Tami Iverson, retail sales & marketing manager for Pacific Coast Producers. “Not only do we now know more about who is eating canned peaches and apricots, but we also learned that the nutritional messaging may be more important to them than other factors we had been looking at. We were very interested to find out how our products were being eaten, and learned more about how we should recommend positioning our products in the marketplace with dietitians and retailers.”

Sarb Johl, chairman of the California Cling Peach Board (CCPB), led the nutrition research charge back in 2011 in the face of declining sales at the retail level. “We knew we had to start with the science,” Johl said. “We watched other commodities grow thanks to nutrition studies and then market[ed] those findings.  It was time for the Cling Peach industry to invest in science. We are extremely glad we did.”

The entire abstract and full article from the "Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture" is available online. Click here to view a short video overview of the study with researcher Bob Durst from OSU.

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