I called it a “simple question.” I found out it was not so. Here is the query I posed to the Google and LinkedIn Fresh Produce Industry Discussion Groups . . .
“Simple question. If you were put in charge of marketing fruit and vegetables to American adults — and given an ample advertising budget — what approach do you think would work best? Would you choose spokespersons with sex appeal, emphasis on the nutritional value of fruits and vegetables, the gap in consumption compared to dietary guidelines, weight loss benefits or some other message to change consumer attitudes?”
The question is problematic in that it set up an unrealistic scenario — an ample advertising budget. That is akin to saying “if gravity didn’t exist, how far could you jump?” Still, playing along with the “if price was no object” assumption, the group had multiple approaches to answering the question.
Working with quick-serve chains to put more produce on menus, highlighting the health/nutrition message at retail, appealing to the need for convenience, capitalizing on the “know your farmer” sentiment and greater use of sampling at retail were some of the ideas. But plugging in to star power was a recurring theme.
The comments bellow are a few excerpts of what the group expressed in the thread. As you can see, the 820-plus member LinkedIn group has an international flavor. I’ll omit the names for this purpose but otherwise keep the remarks as written:
“Our experience in Brazil shows that only spokespersons with appeal (not only sex appeal!), may change consumers’ attitudes. Information upon nutritional values, dietary guidelines, and weight loss benefits... is already well known by almost everybody, but doesn't change attitude. Examples in Brazil: until the early 90’s, the image of the banana was a cheap fruit for poor people. We did merchandising on TV shows with our national tennis champion, “Guga” (Gustavo Kuerten) where he was saying he consumed bananas to improve his diet, intake of potassium, etc... and he was also saying how easy it was to have banana available and easy to eat. We continued with football stars, like Ronaldo and today, the image of eating banana has completely changed, price is now in a profitable range for the grower, and everybody is happy.”
This comment tended to reinforce my hunch that U.S. industry fruit and vegetable promotions need star appeal. This comment got the thread going, and this comment came from a like-minded member of the group from India;
“We also did the same in India in late 80s. We did fruit and vegetable TV commercials with the then-election commissioner of India and a tough police commissioner who was the first woman to break the glass ceiling in India. The idea was to juxtapose these well-known figures against the company’s supermarket image to bring fruit and vegetable retailing to an elevated level.”
From the U.S.:
“I would choose spokespersons with health appeal, especially (as previously mentioned) sports personalities and sports leagues. I have often thought that Chiquita or Del Monte should sponsor a PGA tour event, or failing that, come up with a endorsement deal with a golfer on one of the tours ... golfers eat bananas on course and on camera for their nutritive value, natural sugar boost, and potassium replacement.”
From the U.S.:
“The approach has to be viral or grass-roots, not commercial to be truly successful with American adults. If you get a star on your side in the battle for the stomach and they are tweeting and using Facebook you’re going to win. But getting that to happen, and look genuine, is the key. It takes time and a real believer with credibility. Any ideas on who that is?”
From the U.S.
“We have seen that if you give samples of the products for consumers to taste at retail level, they are more willing to purchase the items even if the item is a little more pricey. People like a Paula Dean, Robert Irvine or Guy Fieri, who I have actually participated with at the Food and Wine Festival in New Jersey and Pennsylvania could be a spokesperson that has appeal.”
At the end of the day, this exercise in “if you want to dream a little” must come back around to the current efforts to promote fruit and vegetable consumption.
The industry doesn’t want to support a full-blown consumer promotion campaign with star power, or else it would exist. That should change.
I think the produce industry needs a powerful messenger, a winsome face, a reassuring voice that the consuming public will connect with. While no one is disputing the need for science-based food safety legislation, it may be folly to believe passage of a law alone will change consumer perceptions and ease doubts.
The Produce for Better Health Foundation would surely be capable of inking a deal with a celebrity. “Given ample resources,” LeBron James, Guy Fieri and Lea Michele are waiting in the wings for a casting call.