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Borrowing a page from big tobacco to grow produce sales


Big screen actors and television personalities made smoking cool for generations of Americans. Now produce marketers and retailers hope a new deal with Hollywood can have the same effect on fruits and vegetables.

Instead of an action character lighting up after a dramatic pause, imagine that character taking a deliberate bite of an apple or confidently finishing a salad before uttering a catch phrase and taking out a crew of bad guys. This is the premise behind a new deal between the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) and the Entertainment Resource & Marketing Association (ERMA). One of PMA’s goals is to drive demand for fresh produce and if the entertainment industry could make smoking socially acceptable and fuel demand for cigarettes decades ago, why couldn’t a similar strategy work with a new generation of consumers of fruits and vegetables.

“Movies, shows, and celebrities influence what consumers purchase and how they behave, so getting more fresh fruits and vegetables on-screen and in the hands of actors can help make produce cool to consumers,” said Jin Ju Wilder, a member of the PMA board and director of corporate strategy for Valley Fruit and Produce Company. “ERMA’s members were very enthusiastic about being part of PMA’s multi-pronged approach and were confident that fresh produce could be incorporated in multiple entertainment channels, making fresh fruits and vegetables ubiquitous on-screen.”

ERMA has agreed to advocate the use of fresh produce in entertainment production and track that use. PMA said it will assist ERMA to make generic, fresh produce available while produce companies who want to feature specific products or brands will be able to use product placement companies to do so.

Fresh produce can fit easily into shows, whether its use is plot-driven or ancillary, like fruit on a kitchen counter or a conversation that takes place in a produce department, according to ERMA President Michael Schrager.

“When popular characters choose produce from the store, the fridge, or the restaurant menu as part of their everyday interactions, viewers will identify with that as the right way to eat,” Schrager said. “By identifying shows with school age characters we hope we can help move today’s youth to a healthier lifestyle and lessen the incidence of problems such as childhood obesity. Our members have a proven track record and can help make that happen.”

PMA’s new deal with the entertainment group is part the trade group’s ongoing demand creation efforts. In 2013, Sesame Workshop and PMA joined the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) to launch the “eat brighter!” movement. The initiative promotes fresh fruit and vegetable consumption to kids ages two to five by allowing PMA’s community of growers, suppliers and retailers to use the Sesame Street brand without a licensing fee. Earlier this year, PMA contributed $1 million on behalf of the fresh produce industry to support PHA’s new demand generation effort focused on teens and moms called FNV, an acronym for fruits and vegetables.

“We know that kids are very much influenced by the brands they see in movies, on TV and in the hands of celebrities,” said Lawrence Soler, CEO of the Partnership for a Healthier Amercia. “Collaborations like the one between PMA and ERMA help market fruits and veggies in creative, engaging ways that get families and kids more excited about eating them.”

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