A trademarked campaign in North America is making a difference for produce as it makes it easy for parents to make healthy choices for their youngsters. Kathy Means of the US trade body Produce Marketing Association (PMA) explains the eat brighter!™ movement
The eat brighter! campaign is a collaborative effort among PMA, the educational foundation Sesame Workshop, and the Partnership for a Healthier America. It uses popular Sesame Street characters to promote fruit and vegetables to the preschool set and allows produce marketers selling in the US, Canada, and Mexico to use characters royalty-free to boost sales of fresh produce. PMA, which licenses participating companies for a nominal fee, surveys participants every few months. The research shows a consistent average year-on-year sales increase of 3% for suppliers, with some suppliers reporting even greater boosts.
Marketing works, and character marketing is particularly successful. “Children develop emotional bonds with brand mascots and media characters as if they were their personal friends,” according to a March issue brief from Healthy Eating Research, a national programme of the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation. “These relationships are based on the attractiveness of the brand mascots and media characters, and they can influence children’s food choices and diet.”
More recently, a study from Cornell University showed that when kids see favourite characters promoting fruit and vegetable consumption, they are more apt to choose fruits and vegetables. The researchers found that 239% more students lined up at the salad bar when it had colourful cartoon banners and fun videos.
Real-world sales, communications success
On a more tactical, anecdotal plane, an eat brighter! retailer-supplier pair detailed their results from a March promotion aimed at families with younger children. Linda Cunningham of citrus supplier Classic Harvest and Bryan Roberts of Save-A-Lot stores teamed up for a promotion of value-priced bags of naval oranges featuring iconic Sesame Street character Elmo. Classic Harvest’s bags were promoted in 1,300–1,400 stores, and both of them reported great success.
“Classic Harvest is a young company, and we don’t have millions of dollars to spend on branding,” says Cunningham. “We wanted to brand our products with recognizable characters; eat brighter! is an affordable option, and PMA has done all the legwork. Millennial moms know the characters, because they grew up with Sesame Street, and the artwork really resonates with children.”
Roberts concurs about how the characters appeal to kids: “Save-A-Lot is always seeking exciting ways to bring healthy options to our customers and to drive sales,” he says. “The eat brighter! packaging is certainly working; it really pops in the store and helps draw attention to fresh produce. Feedback has been really positive. We’re pleased with the increased website hits and Facebook posts, and we received many phone calls about the programme.”
Cunningham believes that sometimes retailers are leery of character marketing because it often comes with increased costs for the product. But because the eat brighter! programme eliminates the costly royalties that are usually paid for character marketing, cost is not a factor, she says and Save-A-Lot agrees. “It’s been a great programme for us, especially because I’m not paying royalties to participate, and I’m not paying a premium to get the eat brighter! branded product,” says Roberts. “So I’m able to deliver something featuring characters that kids and parents alike recognise. It’s been very successful.”
Suppliers worldwide can participate in eat brighter! for their products destined for the North American market. Nearly 60 suppliers are already licensed to use the characters, and more are in the pipeline. And more than 60 retailers representing over 30,000 stores are licensed or are accepting product.
Building produce consumers for life
“We were attracted to the eat brighter! movement because we have faith that it could make positive change,” said James Milne of major importer and US-product supplier Oppy. “Increased produce consumption among young families will lead to good long-term habits and a healthier future for all.”
Meanwhile for Larry McIntosh of vegetable supplier Peak of the Market, the strength of the eat brighter! movement is its pre-competitive nature: “Produce suppliers are all competitors in many ways but with this one programme, we all benefit by working together as one,” says McIntosh. “If Canadians and Americans are eating more fruits and vegetables – this is good for our citizens’ health and for the health of our industry.”
Children see dozens of ads each day for junk food. Suppliers and retailers can take their marketing to the next level to break through those unhealthy ads and reach audiences with healthy messaging that promotes fresh fruit. “It’s a great reminder of the bigger picture,” says Christina Regan of top-fruit, grape and citrus supplier Sbrocco International Inc, “beyond our sales figures or the number of Facebook fans our page has, that our work makes people, and specifically children, live healthier, happier lives.”
Meanwhile, PMA firmly believes that targeting kids to eat more produce will pay off for them and for the industry. Encouraging greater consumption in the preschool set can make fruit and vegetables a normal and delicious part of their diets for life. They’ll have better health and eat tastier diets, and our industry will benefit from greater sales.
Kathy Means has worked for the Produce Marketing Association since 1989 and has been the organisation’s vice-president of industry relations for the last three years. The PMA has a network of thousands of members worldwide.