Looking for a new friend? Check Facebook, where you can befriend the Dole Salad Guide or connect with Earthbound Farm’s organic salad fans.

In an effort to build more personal relationships with consumers, Dole, Earthbound Farm and other fresh-cut processors are using social media, such as Facebook and Twitter.

In January, Dole Fresh Vegetables, Monterey, Calif., with public relations firm DGWB Advertising & Communications, Santa Ana, Calif., expanded its social media marketing program for the relaunched bagged salad line, said Russell Evans, senior brand manager.

The social media campaign is part of a broader packaged salad marketing strategy that is expected to make at least 1.7 billion media impressions through online media, consumer and trade publications, nationwide television spots, outdoor advertising and other strategies, Evans said.

An additional 2.6 billion in-store impressions are expected to reach consumers.

Evans said that response to the digital and interactive elements, including Facebook and Twitter accounts, advertising on Web sites such as Food Network and Hulu, and direct e-mails to consumers, has been good.

“We’ve been overwhelmed by salad enthusiasts’ pent-up demand for salad-based conversations, recipe sharing and inspiration,” he said in the message.

Navigating salads online

Dole’s online salad-pitching salesman is a character called the Dole Salad Guide. He’s a bearded, bespectacled fellow who interacts with consumers, posts salad-related tips and proclaims his love for all things salad on Facebook and Twitter accounts.

In early March, the Dole Salad Guide’s Facebook page had more than 35,000 fans. Dole recently added a Facebook application that allows fans to swap recipes.

Visitors to the Dole salads Web site can use an interactive page to adjust flavor and texture scales to their liking and the site will then suggest salad blends that meet the profiles.

The new Fresh Express Artisan Salads Web site, www.freshexpressartisans.com, has its own ratings for each of four attributes: mild to bold; sweet to zesty; delicate to curly/crispy; and bright to dark.

Salinas, Calif.-based Fresh Express, a subsidiary of Cincinnati-based Chiquita Brands International, last year launched its first major consumer marketing campaign for value-added salads.

As a result of consumer-targeted messages, sales volumes in test markets have increased by 4% to 9%, said Ed Loyd, director of corporate communications and investor relations.

A current online campaign touts a new line of salad blends, the Fresh Express Artisanal Salads, as “Salads so flavorful … dressing optional.”

The new salads are available at Henry’s Farmers Market and Vons in California, according to the brand’s Web site.

The triple-washed salads are packed in “eco-friendly brown bags with less plastic than the typical packaged salad,” the Web site says.

The varieties advertised on the site are Sierra Crisp Herb, Crimson Petite Spinach, Wild Rocket Zest, and Harvest Moon Splendor. The Fresh Express Seasonal Salads Facebook page also lists Daisy Girl Medley and French Blossom.

The Web site offers recipes from Sam the Cooking Guy as well as coupons for $1.50 off an Artisanal Salad. Visitors can also watch a commercial on the site.

Although he didn’t specifically mention the Artisanal Salads campaign, Loyd said Chiquita is pleased with the success of its consumer-focused marketing campaign and it plans to continue with it this year.

“There is significant room for growth in the $3 billion category that has so far been developed without the use of consumer marketing,” Loyd said in an e-mail message.

San Juan Bautista, Calif.-based Earthbound Farm’s Web site gets about 80,000 visits per month, said Samantha Cabaluna, communications director. About 50,000 of those visits are to the recipe section of the site.

Earthbound Farm also has a Twitter account and a Facebook page. Cabaluna said the company wants to engage in open and authentic interactions with its customers via its Web site and Twitter.

In early March, its Twitter account had about 130 followers, while its Facebook account had more than 1,000 fans.

Earthbound Farm plans to use Facebook to publicize this year’s Earth Day promotions, Cabaluna said.

Social media applications

Crunch Pak is taking “baby steps” when it comes to social media marketing, said Tony Freytag, marketing director.

It has a Facebook page and a Twitter account, and it’s planning to try new strategies within the next four months to drive more traffic to them.

In late February, Crunch Pak had about 50 Facebook fans and 30 Twitter followers.

“We want to be accustomed to it first,” Freytag said. “Before long, you’ll see Crunch Pak videos on Facebook.”

Crunch Pak also plans to add interactive features to its Web site within the next six months, Freytag said.

Pero Family Farms Food Co. LLC, Delray Beach, Fla., is considering using social media as a marketing tool, said Ed Sullivan, chief marketing officer.

“There are ups and downs to that,” he said.

While Facebook and Twitter are good for community relations, Sullivan said there are better ways of mining and managing consumer data.