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‘Fresh For Ellen’ Raises A Question: How Should We Define Success?

We have run three pieces chronicling the efforts of Dan’l Mackey Almy, President and Managing Partner of DMA Solutions, to create a produce tie-in with Ellen DeGeneres’ announced decision to give up sugar.

Our first missive profiled the effort and critiqued the nutritional science behind Ellen’s plan. We called that piece, Plea For Ellen DeGeneres To Consider Produce In Her Sugar-Free Diet.

We then followed up with a piece built around a letter Dan’l sent urging us to think about the “potential of grass roots marketing efforts for our space.” That piece was titled, How Will Success Be Measured For Fresh for Ellen Social Media Campaign?

Then Cindy A. Jewell, Director of Marketing for California Giant Berry Farms, sent props for the effort, announcing “Way to Go Dan’l!” We built a third piece around that letter and called it, ‘Fresh For Ellen’ Shows Passion And Potential To Help The Industry.

Now Dan’l weighs in again:

I want to once again extend my appreciation for your coverage of Fresh for Ellen. So many people have chosen to see the potential in collaboration and the importance of sharing our fresh produce story in a unique way. To pigeon-hole the efforts of many industry leaders and consumers into a simple “social media campaign” or as a group who is more about “giving produce away” than selling it is an unfortunate miss and intentional deflection from the true essence of Fresh for Ellen — EFFORT! That’s it, Jim. Not Dan’l’s effort, but a large group of industry leaders and consumers. Please take a look.

We made an effort, not to replace any previous efforts to promote fresh produce, and took it upon ourselves to introduce a new and different approach. I am confident that all the smart marketers reading the Pundit understand that social media is just a tool — not the strategy — and I am also certain that every person involved in our industry knows that donations and sharing is a part of business, regardless if we talk about it or not.

Regardless, our goal was more than doubled on our 6th week anniversary which was March 31, 2010!

I would also like to touch on your repeated emphasis on nutritional science and the fallacy of Ellen’s position that reducing processed sugars in her diet is the “proper” way to change her eating habits. Ellen may not be making her decisions based on scientific findings, but again, that’s missing the point. We all know… as consumers ourselves, that we are not always prompted to “do what is right” nor “eat what is good for us” all the time, everyday. So it is our job as an industry to evoke other emotions (fun, taste, easy to use, peak of season, etc.) in order to reach consumers and to connect with them on their terms. That requires new thinking and a commitment to engage and to become a bigger part of consumers’ lifestyles. My point, there is more than one way to win the “more consumption battle” that we are constantly striving for.

I will not belabor your readers with details of our success to date, as that too is a matter of opinion but to those involved, it’s clear. One measure, however, that should be a great gauge of our collective efforts… both the Ellen show and Martha Stewart are following a large group of fresh produce companies in addition to Fresh for Ellen on Twitter (to name a few: Duda Fresh Farms, Ocean Mist Farms, Eurofresh Farms, Mission Avocados, Frieda’s Finest and even PMA!!). How is that impactful? Collectively, Ellen and Martha reach over 6 million consumers via Twitter everyday… and they “follow” very few (far below 1% of their followers). Simply put, a “follow” on Twitter is an acknowledgement, and one that is earned. None of which we had six weeks ago.

Jim, we understand that Fresh for Ellen is not for every produce company, but the platform/effort is something we can build on. I feel you are promoting more “paralysis” and igniting unnecessary debate that plagues our industry’s best chance ever for connecting with consumers. Fresh for Ellen is not the answer to our all of our concerns, but it certainly showcases the enormous potential of our “collective efforts”, all the while doing good things. Jim, we need to be discussing ways to collectively connect with the Food Network, Jamie Oliver, Biggest Loser, food bloggers, doctors, moms, etc… we have a lot of work to do!!

— Dan’l Mackey Almy
President and Managing Partner
DMA Solutions, Inc.
Irving, Texas

Dan’l is an expert at getting publicity and serves her clients and the industry at large very well.

We see her effort to tie in with Ellen’s sugar-free journey as commendable and creative. It is not going to hurt the industry and may well help. So we tip the hat to Dan’l for being the self-identified “ring leader” of the effort. We haven’t identified it as something run by a broader group of people because our understanding is that there is no formal board of directors and that Dan’l could shut off the site tomorrow if she felt like it.

We have certainly noted donations by many companies. We ran on the “Pundit” a nice video of Sam Jones, Operations Manager for Duda Farm Fresh Foods, when Duda and Peace River Packing made a nice donation to the RCMA Child Development Center. We’ve also mentioned donations from Frontera Produce, Coast Produce Company and Del Monte Fresh. We are, of course, happy to mention that Frieda’s Specialty Produce, Tanimura & Antle, Taylor Farms, Fresh Express, Earthbound Farms, Mann Packing Co. have also donated produce.

This is all very commendable and, perhaps, some of the produce would not have been donated if this effort didn’t exist.

But it also true that the industry has been generous in its donations of both produce and money for as long as we can remember. Some companies have formal programs; Giumarra, for example, trumpets on the front page of its website that it is a fundraising partner with Feeding America, formerly America’s Second Harvest.

We ran here a piece about the Christmas season donations at Fresh Express and, here, a piece about how Bill Moncovich, the President of California Giant Berry Farms has continued a tradition started by his father and now annually sponsors the oldest continuous fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. In fact, in a quarter century of soliciting produce and money for donations to various causes, we have always found the industry unfailingly generous.

That there is a business purpose to much donation and sharing is certain… in fact, in the very first Pundit we included a piece titled, The Charity of Business, built around a debate between Nobel prize-winning economist Milton Friedman and Whole Foods Founder and CEO John Mackey on that very subject.

The question here is what is the business purpose we are trying to serve? On that issue, we confess to finding the effort unclear. Are we trying to improve the image of produce companies so the world will think we are good people? This might help some when the industry is attacked. Are we trying to increase consumption by associating produce with sugar-free eating?

As far as the success of the “Fresh for Ellen” initiative goes, though we think it is a great effort and have applauded Dan’l for undertaking it, since we are not certain what Dan’l really wants to accomplish, we are not in a position to judge it a success or failure. Although it is nice to be one of the 5,168 Twitter feeds that Martha Stewart follows or one of the 27,916 Twitter feeds that Ellen DeGeneres follows, we don’t actually know the degree to which anyone pays attention to these things and what is achieved by being on the list. We suppose that it is better to be included than not, so we tip our hat to Dan’l for achieving that — but it seems to us a success with an unclear end benefit.

One area we agree strongly with Dan’l on is that, yes, emphasizing health and nutrition is only one of many ways to seek to increase consumption of fresh produce. We have written often that one of the problems of the trade’s promotional efforts is that they neglected the other aspects that could drive produce consumption.

If Ellen had said she was going to start eating broccoli with cheese sauce because she never ate broccoli and saw that as a bridge to healthier eating, we would have applauded the effort. Or if she said she was going to enjoy berries and ice cream, because they are so delicious — we would have been thrilled. If she said she loves artichokes with butter and since she is not overweight was going to enjoy them without guilt — we would have said — hallelujah.

The issue here is that Ellen made very specific claims. She presented a confused case, not mentioning anything about “processed sugars” but claiming she was giving up “everything” including “wine and vodka” — in fact we watched her announcement and confess that we thought she might be giving up produce since it has sugars in it.

Obviously we weren’t the only ones confused since she went back on TV to specifically explain that she was going to continue to eat fruits and vegetables. Though her explanation of what, precisely, she was giving up remained vague. In the end we know she felt she had fallen off the wagon because she had wine. Although typically both red wine and white wine has less sugar than grapes.

Ellen also endorsed sugar substitutes such as agave nectar as somehow superior to sugar in their effects on health.

Dan’l is one person with one marketing company and she can do pretty much what she wishes. For the industry institutions such as the Produce for Better Health Foundation, the Produce Marketing Association and the United Fresh Produce Association, it is important that they not affiliate themselves with efforts not firmly rooted in science. Otherwise one day the sugar lobby will get to a congressman and next thing you know Elizabeth Pivonka, Tom Stenzel and Bryan Silbermann will be testifying before some congressional committee and asked to explain why the produce industry is complicit in denigrating sugar in favor of agave nectar.

One area we will have to agree to disagree on is Dan’l’s contention that the industry suffers from “unnecessary debate” that “plagues our industry.” At the Pundit, we see debate as a positive that brings to the surface many points of view. The industry, and players in it, are more likely to make good decisions and less likely to make mistakes when issues have been thoroughly discussed.

We wish all those involved with “Fresh for Ellen” well but it strikes us as a bit grandiloquent to claim that this effort is actually the “best chance ever” for the produce industry to connect with consumers. Sunkist was dominating the Saturday Evening Post and Ladies Home Journal long before radio and TV; the Pundit grew up with a TV singing “A Dole banana is a great banana and it’s great because it’s Dole.” And, of course, Miss Chiquita did a pretty good job of connecting with consumers and educated a nation on the fact that bananas should not be stored in the refrigerator and should not be eaten raw while green.

In the 1940’s, Disney produced a spot for Chiquita that ran only in movie theatres. More than a half century later many can still hum the tune. That is engagement as well:

Many thanks to Dan’l Mackey Almy and the folks at DMA Solutions for contributing to industry discussion on this important issue.

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