It’s been a newsworthy few weeks for produce marketing and our collective failure to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables.
First, Michelle Obama, standing with none other than Elmo and Rosita, (along with the Partnership for a Healthier America and the Produce Marketing Association) announced an exciting offer by Sesame Workshop to allow Sesame Street characters to be used in marketing fruits and veggies.
Then, Michael Moss, bestselling author of “Salt, Sugar, Fat: How The Food Giants Hooked Us,” published a provocative New York Times article called “Broccoli’s Extreme Makeover.”
In his story, Moss reports on his proactive investigation of what happens when really talented professional marketers wrap their heads around the challenge of increasing sales of a produce item like broccoli.
As Moss says, “... there is some change in the air when it comes to marketing healthful food in America.”
Moss’s premise is that health messages are “simply overwhelmed, in volume and effectiveness, by junk-food ads that often deploy celebrities or cartoon characters to great effect.”
He adds that despite “all the evidence piling up on behalf of the benefits of eating more produce, it has become clear that neither children nor adults will do this unless they want to.”
One of the key takeaways from the broccoli makeover story is “health doesn’t sell.”
The article implies that the produce industry needs to focus its creative messaging efforts on something other than the health benefits of fruits and veggies if it wants people to buy and consume more.
At The Colors of Health, we believe this is not only wrong, it also creates the likelihood that the most powerful tool we have to increase produce consumption will be abandoned while we shift all our attention to “health-less” creative tactics, abdicating fruits’ and veggies’ rightful position as the healthiest foods on earth.
The fact is, health does sell. Just ask the industry groups behind blueberries, avocados, pomegranates kale, and nuts — like walnuts and almonds, to name a few.
The total pounds of annual production and per-capita consumption of these commodities have experienced tremendous growth over the past decade because of one principal element of their marketing strategy — their health story!
As marketers, we know that health is a unique product benefit and differentiator for fruits and vegetables.
Industry surveys confirm that the No. 1 reason people eat fruits and vegetables is to stay healthy.
By harnessing the power of the health message, each of these commodities has positioned its product as a “superfood” and consumers have sought them out, overcoming barriers of price, taste and convenience.
Despite two decades of government — and Non-Governmental Organization-led initiatives that have successfully built awareness that fruits and vegetables are “healthy for you,” the produce industry and its advocates haven’t ever developed and sustained a strategic and creative category-wide marketing initiative to leverage and convert that health awareness into increased daily per-capita consumption.
The result is more than 20 years without a meaningful increase.
According to PMA Chief Executive Officer Bryan Silbermann, as quoted in Moss’s piece, “We thought that if we talked for a long-enough time about people needing to eat more healthfully, they would miraculously change their eating habits.”
But as we all know, just talking about something is not the same as really doing something about it.
Silbermann is further quoted, “But the way you get there is using mainstream marketing techniques to get people to behave in a healthful way without knowing it. The processed food marketers manipulate the public. We haven’t spent nearly enough time in the produce industry adapting those techniques and thinking about what really motivates people.”
From our point of view, the key is not the manipulation but the “what really motivates people” part.
Taste, convenience, price or TV characters are not likely to be what truly motivates people to eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables.
The true motivator is, and likely will remain, the health benefits.
If we agree that there is ample awareness that fruits and vegetables are important for better health, yet consumption remains between one-third and one-half of recommended daily levels, then clearly there are marketing conversion steps necessary to move people from passive awareness to active achievement.
Triggering that passive awareness at every shopping trip and eating occasion, and converting it to action, is the real marketing challenge.
We believe it’s time for a private-sector, industry-wide effort that makes a clear commitment to the U.S. Department of Agriculture dietary guidelines’ average 5-cups-a-day goal — with a simple strategy and message that can tie this entire category and all its supporters together.
At the heart of that strategy, we suggest, will be color, health and a clear goal.
Creating a marketplace mechanism to leverage and convert existing health-benefit awareness to change the way people think about, shop for, and eat fruits and vegetables, and helping them actually achieve what they say they really want to do, is the basis of The Colors of Health integrated marketing initiative.
5 Colors. 5 Cups. Every Day.
John Sauve and David Swardlick are managing partners of the Portland, Maine-based Food and Wellness Group. The Colors of Health, a Food and Wellness Group program, launches in early 2014. For more information visit www.colorsofhealth.com.
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