NEWARK, Del. -- The Produce Man -- a man-like animated character constructed of different produce items who is the star of 5 a Day public service announcements -- can help supermarkets sell more produce, according to the results of a market test released by the Produce for Better Health Foundation here.
test is that the Produce Man character as paid advertising had a direct, measurable impact on produce sales," said Robb Enright, manager of public relations for the PBH. "Through this test, we were able to link awareness and produce sales. Produce Man influences consumer purchasing decisions."
The "5 a Day Produce Man Media Test" was held with the assistance of Kroger, Winn-Dixie and Supervalu, and was monitored by U.S. Marketing Services, Sonoma, Calif., for 19 weeks in the Louisville, Ky., market, PBH officials said.
"The media test provides compelling evidence that the Produce Man spot as paid advertising can increase produce sales over time," said Elizabeth Pivonka, PBH president, in a statement.
During 13 weeks of the test, the Produce Man public-service announcement aired on prime-time television as paid advertising. Seventeen stores in the television viewing area, and another 13 stores not in the viewing region, were monitored for effects on sales.
The test was designed to compare control stores, which were outside the viewing area, with sales at test stores inside the viewing area. Each chain had test stores as well as control stores. "The only difference between control stores and the test stores was the airing of the Produce Man spot," Enright said.
Overall sales increases reached 5% in the test stores. "Inside the viewing area, sales increased; however, sales did not increase outside the viewing area," Enright said.
Using control stores was not the only way officials maintained the integrity of the test. "The participating stores represented the major chains of the Louisville market -- each chain manages promotions for its stores," Enright said. "This meant that all stores were on the same promotion schedules.
"This enabled us to make sure no promotions competed or interfered with the test."
According to Marty Fischer, PBH communications commission chairman, a 5% average increase during an entire year would bring an extra $8.8 million to the Louisville retail produce market, which is estimated to earn about $176 million on an annual basis.
"Five percent is a lot of produce," Fischer said in a statement. "It's a lot of dollars." The spot aired during three distinct broadcast periods: Sept. 16 to Oct. 20, Nov. 11 to Dec. 8 and Jan. 1 to Jan. 28. During the second period, produce sales increased by 1% in the test stores, and during the third installment hit 4% growth. At the end of the study, produce sales had increased 5% in the stores.
"The fact that produce sales increased gradually over the test period indicates that it takes time for consumers to view the spot repeatedly and process its message," said Bob Urban, managing partner in U.S. Marketing Services.
To assess the PSA's effects on consumer awareness, the Forest Hills Group, Barrington, Ill., conducted surveys before and after the 19-week test period. According to data from those surveys, the PSA increased recognition of the Produce Man character from 13% before the test to 46% after. In each survey, 200 women, 18 to 54 years old, were targeted as the main audience.
The PBH is in the process of forming a task force to consider how to apply the media test to other markets. The Produce Man PSA may be used as paid advertising in areas selected by the PBH for the Regional Partnership Program. In this case, local organizations within and outside the industry would fund advertisements.
Another option is a national advertising campaign, although that seems less likely at this point. "It would be a very expensive, long-term decision and commitment on the part of PBH and its members," Enright said. "These are some of the ideas that were discussed preliminarily at the [PBH] board meeting.