What if produce were marketed to kids and teens the same way as junk food, with splashy ads and celebrity endorsements?
That’s the idea behind the Partnership for a Healthier America’s FNV (short for fruits and vegetables) campaign. Launched as a pilot in Fresno, Calif., and Norfolk, Va., in 2015, the program pairs actors and sports stars like Jessica Alba and Stephen Curry — who are not paid for their work — with tongue-in-cheek slogans like “Nobody puts baby carrots in a corner.”
Early on, the FNV campaign reached out to Supervalu’s Virginia Beach, Va.-based Farm Fresh Supermarkets to be its first supermarket partner.
“It was perfect timing,” Farm Fresh President Micky Nye said. “It tied right in with what we stand for. I mean the name of our company is Farm Fresh. It’s all about produce, and we hang our hat on produce. So the tie-in and really looking to make a statement was just perfect. So we jumped at the opportunity.”
FNV officially launched at one store in June 2015, then quickly expanded to all Farm Fresh locations. Stores employed a variety of promotional materials in the produce department, including standing posters, signs on table displays and hanging posters.
“Whether or not the adults totally understood what we were doing, I’m not sure, but it was a great, fun place for the kids, and I have no doubt that somehow, some way it heightened their awareness,” said Nye.
Younger visitors to the store particularly liked the stand-up posters with cutouts that allowed them to take pictures with stars like Cam Newton. “There was always activity at the posters,” Nye added.
Farm Fresh also played up FNV during school store tours, and switched from giving students a free cookie to a free piece of fruit.
The retailer made sure to include its produce managers so that the program would run smoothly. All produce managers attended the FNV launch and received training on the importance of the program and helping educate kids on eating fruits and vegetables.
While FNV created excitement in stores, Nye said it was hard to tell how much impact the program had on sales because there was no control environment to compare it to.
“Our produce share of business picked up 25 basis points, but how much of that was FNV and how much of that was the result of other initiatives, it’s really hard to say. We didn’t have a clear metric,” said Nye.
“[PHA was] a great group to work with. They had great ideas, great vision, but they didn’t understand the retail marketing piece of it,” she added.
For its part, PHA conducted research on produce consumption patterns in the two test markets. The organization found seven out of 10 of those who remembered seeing an FNV ad said they increased their consumption of produce, PHA CMO Drew Nannis said.
Nannis said retailers were a “critical” piece of the FNV program because the best place to change attitudes about produce is at the point of sale, and he welcomed the feedback from retail partners.
“FNV wants to bring what we see as a powerful creative, powerful marketing tool into their space, but it’s also been extremely helpful for us to talk to multiple grocery retailers, from small box to big box to online, to help us understand what their priorities are, what their needs are, how we can best crack FNV to exist both around the store in terms of what we’re buying in the market but also in the store,” said Nannis.
“We’ve been doing this now for a year and a half. And I think every time we hang up the phone with another retailer we get a little bit smarter and our campaign gets a little bit better.”
PHA launched its first national FNV campaign in October. Nannis said PHA had had preliminary talks to partner with multiple national and regional supermarket chains to expand FNV’s in-store reach.
Farm Fresh’s FNV pilot ended in June 2016, but Nye said she would work with PHA again, although she hoped the partnership would be a little bit more of a give and take.
“I think the program has definite merit,” said Nye. “I love the direction. I love what they were trying to accomplish. I think a partnership going forward with the supermarket retailer would make the program even stronger, rather than trying to run it as an independent program. And we’re willing to take that on if they want to go there.”