SUNSWEET TESTING ITS BRAND ON FRESH FRUITS

PLEASANTON, Calif. -- The growing number of brand names finding their way onto produce shelves and into bins is attracting more attention, as grower/shippers examine different strategies they can use to join the trend.In the latest example, Sunsweet Growers here, well established in the dried-fruit category -- particularly prunes -- is ready to test whether it can leverage its name to boost sales

PLEASANTON, Calif. -- The growing number of brand names finding their way onto produce shelves and into bins is attracting more attention, as grower/shippers examine different strategies they can use to join the trend.

In the latest example, Sunsweet Growers here, well established in the dried-fruit category -- particularly prunes -- is ready to test whether it can leverage its name to boost sales of fresh fruit, including grapes.

Launched sometime after July 4, the program is being tested in a "handful" of supermarkets representing the East, Midwest and Western regions of the country, and will run to the end of the summer, said company officials.

"This is the first time that we've definitely stepped outside the dried-fruit area category," said Howard Nager, vice president of North American marketing for Sunsweet Growers. "We're looking at any and all opportunities to put the Sunsweet label on additional fresh-fruit items."

Before launching the campaign, Sunsweet signed an agreement with Reedley, Calif.-based Kings Canyon Corrin, a California fruit producer that markets 4.5 million cartons of treefruit and grapes every year.

According to Nager, each retailer in the sample group is carrying the Kings treefruit, which includes peaches, plums, nectarines and grapes, all bearing the Sunsweet logo on price look-up stickers.

The treefruit is merchandised in their shipping cases, while the grapes are sold in poly bags. Both the cases and the bags carry the Sunsweet name and logo.

To support sales, outdoor billboards are used, as well as co-op radio advertisements, in-store radio promotions and in-store signage and sampling demonstrations.

Running through the summer months -- the peak sales time for all the items selected for the test -- the program will later be evaluated to determine what effect the Sunsweet name had on fresh fruit.

"Inherent in a branded product, you try to instill trust and confidence in the consumer's mind," he said. "But, also we're hoping to differentiate our product vs. the non-branded product and provide additional value to the consumer through our advertising, consistent quality and in-store image."

According to Nager, the Sunsweet brand has more than 85% awareness among consumers; additionally, a brand equity poll conducted by Yankelovich Partners determined that consumers have a "very high acceptance" rate of the company's name on fresh fruit.