Author: English-Bowers, Molly
Date published: November 10, 2010
No joke: When I was in high school in the late 1970s, the student council battled 1950s-era nutrition sensibilities and succeeded with the introduction of fresh salad as an a la carte item on the lunch menu. Naturally the lettuce was watery, no-nutrient iceberg, but it was a start in providing items healthier than government-issued burgers, hot dogs, Spanish rice (ewwww) and fried haddock. Fast forward 30 years and, despite our attempts at making our corner of the world healthier, childhood obesity is fast becoming an epidemic and school lunches are as full of deep-fried, high-fat foods as ever.
One group of farmers is trying to change that. A recent effort, spearheaded by Bolthouse Farms of Bakersfield, Calif., the largest carrot grower in the United States, has cost $25 million so far, paid for by a group called A Bunch of Carrot Farmers. "We are trying to separate baby carrots from being categorized as a vegetable," explains Andy Nathan of the marketing effort. Nathan, a Syracuse native and vice president/account director for Crispin Porter+Bogursky, will be speaking Thursday, Nov. 11, at 6:30 p.m. at Syracuse University's Newhouse School about his firm's efforts to bolster carrot consumption.
One step in the campaign was the introduction, in September, of a baby carrot vending machine to Nathan's alma mater, Fayetteville-Manlius High School. "I went to F-M," Nathan says, "and it's random coincidence that I was told we were going to look at Syracuse for this campaign." Three-ounce bags of baby carrots await each student's 50 cents in two test markets: F-M and Mason High School in Cincinnati, Ohio. The bags' creative packaging is meant to impart a more junk-food look to the product; they certainly look more appealing than the pedestrian baby carrot plastic bags.
"We were looking at an average consumption market in the United States, and both Syracuse and Cincinnati happen to be that for baby carrots," Nathan says. "Add the fact that you have Wegmans in Syracuse and Kroger in Cincinnati-both are great retail partners for selling carrots and we wanted to be in their back yard."
During his lecture at SU, Nathan will discuss how the advertising campaign is meant to increase consumption of the nearly perfect snack food, without labeling it "healthy." "The big thing I'll be talking about is how we arrived at the positioning that we have around the tag line 'Eat 'em Like Junk Food,'" Nathan says from his office in Boulder, Colo. "We looked at snacking culture, the conventions of snacking, and junk food is where we got the most inspiration. By definition, carrots are junk food-they are crunchy, neon-orange, sweet and dippable-all the same characteristics as junk food.
"We're trying to make them more desirable. There's one thing everybody pretty much knows about baby carrots, and that is, they're healthy. But they're also considered boring. We're trying to create an allure and enticement to eat them."
There is certainly nothing boring about the campaign's iPhone app, called Xtreme Xrunch Kart, a carrot-activated game that you can download from the iTunes store. You get additional power when you crunch baby carrots near the microphone on your iPhone, Nathan explains.
While not prepared to take the Eat 'em Like Junk Food campaign national quite yet, Nathan says his firm did create a new program for Halloween, calling the vegetable "scarrots." "The intention is to go completely national in 2011, but for now we're still watching and observing the test markets and getting results back."
Michael Vespi is the assistant superintendent for business services for the F-M School District. He is pleased with the campaign thus far. "The expectations that we had really were minimal since we were a test district," he says, "yet sales took off at the beginning. They have slowed a bit but there was no standard to compare that to. The story is not about sales or about revenue. The story is offering our students a more nutritious choice for a snack. When you look at that and ask how's it going, I think it's going very well."
While the vending machine was slated to have been removed from F-M High School by now, Vespi says it's still there, and Bolthouse Farms continues to provide carrots for free. "We did have a conversation about extending the relationship until January," he notes, "but nothing formal. Still, we're extremely interested in pursing something now that this trial run has been successful."
For more information on the campaign, and to see all the facets of it, visit www.babycarrots.com.