Just how transformational will be Sesame Street’s role in the produce department be in the next two (plus) years?

On Oct. 30, First Lady Michelle Obama today said that Sesame Workshop and the Produce Marketing Association joined the Partnership for a Healthier America in a two-year agreement to help promote fresh fruit and vegetable consumption to kids. The amazing part of the piece is that the agreement allows the industry to use the strength and influence of the Sesame Street brand without a licensing fee for that two year period.

Characters like Big Bird, Elmo and Abby Cadabby will help deliver messages about fresh fruits and vegetables, with Sesame Street characters on display in retail produce departments as early as mid-2014.

I requested from QScores.com the Q Scores (a number that measures the appeal of a brand, characters, licensed properties, celebrities, et cet.) of Sesame Street characters relative to other Disney characters, but I received no quick response to that query.

Still, suffice it to say Ernie, Bert, the Cookie Monster and Big Bird carry some swag among both the very young and the not-so-young.

The show has been on since 1969, with Big Bird, Kermit, Bert and Ernie, Oscar, Grover, and Cookie Monster all “original” characters. I was ten at the time, and I recall my toddler/preschooler cousin Sarah was a big fan of the show. Other Sesame Street characters added over time were Snuffleupagus (1971), The Count (1972), Elmo (1980), Zoe (1993) and Abby Cadabby (2006).

By the time the show turned ten in 1979, press accounts said that nine million American children under the age of six were watching Sesame Street daily.

A six-year-old in 1979 would be 40 years old today, so the images and the characters of Sesame Street will ply their influence over both young and the nearly middle aged.

Much remains to be seen on how the produce industry will use the marketing ooomph of Sesame Street at the retail produce level.

Is the Sesame Street image one that all produce marketers will want to “buy in” with to the consumer? Definitely not.

Some folks dig a NASCAR promotion, while others might be attracted to cause marketing like Fair Trade or a pink label for breast cancer awareness.

Other produce brands may not need further embellishment by Sesame characters.

And how much is too much Elmo? What happens to all the other licensed characters in the produce department? Finding Nemo may really be hard. And what happens after two years of high intensity exposure?

One of the important factors in this program’s success will be PMA’s role in the deal. They are tasked to:


  • Review all requests by its growers, suppliers and retailers for Sesame Workshop assets for use in the promotion of fresh fruits and vegetables and permit use only on eligible products and according to the terms of the license agreement between Sesame Workshop and PMA;
  • Provide assistance and widely promote the opportunity to participate in the Sesame Workshop licensing program; and
  • Share with PHA the results over a two-year period from the Performance Start Date, with metrics including number of products given Sesame Workshop assets through the program, number of companies participating and estimated sales impact.


That’s a ton of work, a ton of expectations to meet.

So we ask again; just how big a footprint will Sesame Street have in the produce department over the next two years?

It could be Big Bird huge.





I had to chuckle at one of the observations of Bruce Peterson in a recent conversation with him about trade shows in general and the PMA show in particular.

Peterson, president of Peterson Insights, Fayetteville, Ark. and former Wal-Mart produce executive, said that the idea of new product introductions at trade shows is all well and good. But from the perspective of a retail buyer, Peterson said that approach may not cut it.

“I don’t care if you are Kroger or Safeway or Wal-Mart or whatever, if I (as a buyer) was to actually walk into a show and saw something new from a supplier that we were doing a reasonable amount of business with, that would have been a problem for the supplier,” Peterson said.

Surprises are not welcome from business partners, the message seems to be.

Interestingly, Peterson said the growing concentration of market share among retailers is a trend that may affect the value of trade shows going forward. With the concentration of procurement, or buying power among retail chains — he said six U.S. chains now may account for 70% of purchases — many retailers are meeting suppliers outside of the trade show realm.

Meetings can now occur online or with a Web conference, so Peterson said the allure of trade shows may diminish among the technologically savvy younger professionals in the business.

In a conversation with Dick Spezzano, owner of Spezzano Consulting Service in Monrovia, Calif., the always informed retail consultant said that the cost of exhibiting is one factor in the industry’s push for one national trade show.

Spezzano said every produce company has to make business decisions on whether to support both organizations and both conventions, and also what size booth to exhibit and what the spend is going to be. Expenses for a large booth and related expenses for transporting people and product, along with food and lodging costs can run well over $100,000, Spezzano said. “It is not hard to get over $100,000 and get near the area of $200,000,” he said.

Spezzano said there are many ways to participate in trade shows. Some may elect to have a big presence on the floor, while others might choose to have zero presence on the floor and instead step up with sponsorships. Others may have no floor presence, no sponsorships but only work the floor and cocktail parties.

And so while the conversation about the failed merger has ended, the adjustments by the industry in its roiling wake may have only just begun.