Tell it to The Packer | Letter to the Editor

Bruce McEvoy, director of global affairs
Seald Sweet LLC/Univeg Group, Vero Beach, Fla.

Anyone in the produce industry seeing the announcement that “Sesame Street” will promote fruits and vegetables free of charge in a campaign to boost consumption among children and their parents has to be excited.

It’s a marketing coup that has enormous potential just in terms of marketing synergies. There are endless possibilities, and this opportunity should certainly stimulate the collective creativity of the industry.

But as I read the press releases and industry comments, one key factor to success has not been mentioned.

In food marketing, whether we’re talking about a new product offering, packaging, logo design or a positioning theme, one principle is non-negotiable: taste!

The “Sesame Street” characters will have tremendous appeal and they will offer a whole new range of merchandising possibilities. But from the outset taste is a “must” deliverable. We still have to compete against cookies, candy and chips.

Many of us in the industry have experienced the challenge of taste versus other considerations. In trying to establish VegiSnax back in the ’90s we discovered that carrots were bred to facilitate mechanical harvesting with taste being a secondary consideration.

The Flavr Savr tomato extended the shelf life but disappointed in terms of taste, as did the carrots.

Yet when taste is captured markets respond.

When Florida citrus producers guaranteed a brix level in grapefruit shipped to Japan they enjoyed increased sales at premium pricing.

The California navel industry has been studying consumer taste preferences for the past two years and they now claim they can pinpoint the preferred taste parameters.

The tomato industry is once again revisiting consumer taste requirements with research being conducted by the Agricultural Research Service and the University of North Carolina, and they seem to better understand the consumer levels of taste satisfaction.

I know it is easy to cheer for taste, but the execution is often difficult to implement.

Yet if we don’t make a real effort to solve the taste issue, the “Sesame Street” campaign will generate enormous trial purchases but may not gain repeat purchases in commodity sectors that don’t satisfy the taste requirements.

We’ve observed the positive feedback on focus sessions with children eating clementines. They are fun to eat in terms of exploring color and peeling the fruit, but taste brings them back.

Eating behavior starts early in life and is one of the most difficult to change.

This “Sesame Street” joint venture gives the industry a real opportunity to influence eating behavior in that very special target audience.

We need to make taste an industry challenge!