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Pundit’s Mailbag — ‘More Matters’ Can Be A Rallying Cry For the Industry

Our piece, Pundit’s Mailbag — Evaluating Effectiveness In Childhood Eating Studies, was built around a response to our article, ‘Nutrition-Education Doesn’t Work’ Says Associated Press Review Of Literature. Both of these articles focused on the need for research to establish that programs undertaken to achieve particular goals are effective at doing so.

For the most part, we were speaking about the U.S. government and its efforts to enhance public health, but we also addressed industry initiatives, including our own trade’s transition from 5 a Day to Fruits & Veggies — More Matters:

The Pundit must have been asked a thousand times what do we think about the new Fruits & Veggies — More Matters campaign that has replaced the old 5 a Day program. The answer is that it sounds pretty good to us, but so what? Who cares? Why is our opinion important? Why is anyone’s opinion important?

The goal of adopting Fruit & Veggies — More Matters was to increase consumption — an eminently testable proposition.

You go to one little city and adopt Fruits & Veggies — More Matters Then, in the control city you test it against whatever you want to test it against. For example, the continuation of the national 5 a Day program.

You do rigorous measurements of the things you are looking to measure. The obvious one is produce consumption. Although we question if that really is the goal as opposed to say, decreased obesity. In any case, you test what you want to test, then you compare results.

It would have been a relatively easy matter to ascertain if Fruits & Veggies — More Matters will obtain our goals. But we had to test it.

By just rolling it out nationally, we lose the ability to easily do comparative studies. As a result we just have no idea and will never have an idea if the More Matters program helps or hurts or is a neutral.

This reference brought an important response from an industry leader very involved with the Produce for Better Health Foundation:

I appreciate much of the thought you put into the Pundit of July 10, 2007, and agree with the majority of it (particularly with regard to government waste on questionable programs, and the efficacy that we should expect from the expenditure of our tax dollars), but there are some specifics with which I must take exception. Please consider these comments to be my personal views, which you may publish if you wish: I am sure that the PBH Executive Committee, of which I am a member, will have an organizational response, suitable for publication on your site (for which, I have a great deal of admiration — whatever that is worth!).

Mark Munger, of Andrew and Williamson, and I co-chaired the task force that developed the new “Fruits and Veggies — More Matters” marks for PBH — the imperative to transition the brand from “5 a Day” to something else was absolute — the embedded message in the old marks was scientifically unsound and, to your point, indefensible from a fact-based perspective.

This fact was undermining the relevance and the “sale-ability” of the message on all fronts — to consumers, to governmental partners, and to industry — . and as the marks evolved to “5 to 9 a Day” etc., the message became ever more muddled. We’re probably on the same page to that point.

The task of creating new marks was a significant marketing challenge. Precisely because PBH is NOT the Federal Government — the re-branding effort was conducted on a very tight budget — the Foundation was very diligent with the expenditure of resources against the project, and every possible dime went into research and testing of the marks for efficacy among the target audience — which, by the way, is “Gen-X Moms”, not kids.

We made a conscious decision NOT to test against “5 a Day” because it was dead, from a science-based perspective, and because resources were scarce. Also, because it had a 15-year history, it would be tough for any new mark to compete against an existing franchise — even an inherently weak one.

I’m a CPG marketer by training, I cut my teeth at Coca-Cola, and I can tell you that this exercise was not as simple as testing “new Diet Coke” graphics against old and determining a winner based on consumer preference. Your proposal of “starting with one city and testing” was not financially feasible, nor was it sound from a marketing perspective… the creative process, and subsequent testing, tweaking and retesting could have gone on indefinitely and would always have been found wanting in some regard. Great brands are not created in this manner.

Now, compound these financial and marketing challenges by considering the nature of the PBH organization: consider its equity in (and reliance on) the diffuse network of state “5 a Day” coordinators, governmental partners like CDC and NIH, NGO’s like AHA and all of the industry grower/shipper and retail interests and you have… well, let’s just say that you have a challenge on your hands. The re-branding team understood this from the outset and understood that a creative process “by committee” would produce a neutered result. So we focused, on a narrow target and on a message that would move consumer behavior.

It is a tall order for any set of marks, in and of themselves, to produce a measurable change in consumer behavior — even when supported by a formidable marketing strategy and a well-funded advertising campaign. For better or worse, PBH is not McDonald’s or PepsiCo, with a single strategy and hundreds of millions of dollars to spend on marketing communications with which to move our consumer target: this is a true “David vs. Goliath” effort; hence, we need support from all partners in industry to drive our messaging home.

I’m all for constructive criticism, but lumping “More Matters” together with other failed efforts is, in my opinion, a serious mistake. Together, our industry has formidable resources, but we need a rallying cry and a strong commitment to message around that cry — or else our competitors, who have very concise and effective campaigns of their own, will continue to roll over us like a steamroller.

PBH has done, in my professional opinion, a superb job of delivering to the industry an excellent rallying cry, around which we can collectively message with the goal of moving consumer behavior over time. No, that’s not just my “feel good” opinion, PBH, can (and I am sure, will) provide the research behind the marks pointing to their efficacy. “Fruits and Veggies — More Matters” is not a silver bullet, but neither is it just another “throw money at the problem” solution (like some, which you accurately characterize in your article).

If you find, upon review, that the course PBH has set upon has merit, I’d appreciate your using the power of your own bully pulpit to say so. We fully intend to measure our progress as we go, and to use actual consumer behavior change as our guiding metric — but we need industry support to get that done.

The Pundit can be a powerful force for rallying that support.

— Paul Klutes
C.H. Robinson Worldwide

First of all, Paul’s “admiration” — and his kind words — are worth a great deal and we appreciate both very much. We also appreciate Paul’s time in drafting such a thoughtful letter. Wrestling with such issues is the way the industry improves.

C.H. Robinson also deserves kudos for allowing and encouraging its employees to make these kinds of important contributions to the trade.

To make one point quite clear, we’ve been privileged here to publish letters from both Mark Munger and paul Klutes before, and we have no doubt that they have conducted themselves conscientiously and with earnest.

The same goes for the rest of the committee, the overall board and executive committee and the staff. We have no complaints about any individual.

Paul’s points are all well taken but much depends on what your view of “Fruits and Veggies — More Matters” actually is. If it is simply an overarching name or brand that the produce industry has coalesced around and the brand is going to serve as a sort of umbrella under which we are going to conduct a large number of programs — and, as such, any out-reach from the produce industry to private foundations or the government is not to fund “Fruits and Veggies — More Matters” per se but to fund some individual program under that rubric — then we have no problem.

This would transform “Fruits and Veggies — More Matters” into the background noise of society along with the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and press releases from FDA and CDC and the March of Dimes.

Our point really spoke to the kind of evidence necessary to raise funds to expand programs. If we view “Fruits and Veggies — More Matters” as a program — something that we would like to one day go to the Ford Foundation or federal government and ask for lots of money to expand — our point was that we are not doing the kind of research that will ever give us the kind of compelling results that would persuade others to fund the program.

Even if tomorrow fruit and vegetable consumption went up 20%, we are just not doing the kind of studies that would provide persuasive evidence that this rise in consumption was due to “Fruits and Veggies — More Matters.”

Many of the issues Paul so accurately portrays are an outgrowth of an attempt to sustain a national program with inadequate resources. This is a common problem in produce marketing.

Many years ago, a voluntary regional commodity promotion group asked the Pundit for help in designing a national marketing program. After listening to their strong case but also listening to their paltry budget, it was clear to the Pundit that the means and the ends were not in sync.

We wound up proposing abandoning, at least for the moment, the whole idea of a national marketing campaign. Instead we urged a concentration of resources on a small city. The plan was to do in that city what we hoped to do regionally and, eventually, nationally.

The idea was that that we could maintain careful records and prove that with an expenditure of a set amount of dollars per person, we could move the needle on consumption by X%.

These results would provide justification for the producers to increase their contributions and we would roll out this marketing program to five additional cities, then ten and so on.

It was a reasonable plan, but it was rejected. The growers wanted a national campaign and, particularly, they wanted television.

We were invited a year later to a lovely hotel suite at PMA, plied with expensive spirits and shown a few variants of an expensively produced television commercial.

The budget being pretty much exhausted by this, those TV commercials never got very much airtime beyond the VCR of their PMA suite, and sales of that item never did see much growth.

Paul’s point about the 50 states and the various interests all speak to a specific starting point: That 5 a Day and PBH were accomplishing something important and therefore we vitally needed to transition to the next phase without interrupting what we were doing.

Unfortunately, we don’t actually know that. If you go to the PBH website and you click on “Our Success” in the Pulse of PBH section, which one would think would be filled with glowing reports of how 15-plus years of PBH has boosted produce consumption, what you actually get is this statement:

Produce for Better Health Foundation (PBH) is a driving force behind America’s growing awareness that fruits and vegetables and good health can go hand in hand. Our work to change nutrition policy, to communicate with consumers, and to improve the food environment is making a difference — and setting an example for others….

Notice that here on our self-proclaimed success page, there is not one word about having increasing consumption. PBH was chartered in 1991, so it is not as if we are being unreasonable in saying we should have some evidence of increased consumption by now.

We have a dedicated board, we have high quality staff, so what is the problem? Well, we are reminded of an interview Pundit sister publication PRODUCE BUSINESS conducted some 17 years ago with Ray Cole, who was then the Director of Marketing Services at Sunkist. You can read the whole interview here.

The issue at hand was Sunkist’s tepid support for a California Navel Orange Promotion Order. There were many issues involved, including whether Sunkist members would get credit for Sunkist marketing expenditures, but, for our purposes, the key insight came when Ray was asked his personal opinion about the proposed generic marketing expenditure:

PB: How does Ray Cole feel about it?

COLE: I am opposed to the generic program on a totally different basis. I don’t see the industry taxing itself sufficiently to really do an effective job. I’m not even sure that Sunkist is doing the best possible job at the moment, because we’re not spending as much money as I think we should, but that’s a separate issue.

PB: Well, exactly how much money do you think Sunkist or the proposed commission should spend?

COLE: Let’s talk about what it takes to increase the consumption of California oranges, because I’m not sure we can promote navels without Valencias either. We did a lot of work in 1970-72 and repeated it in 1981 to see what the effect of more advertising on the American consumer would do in terms of consumption of California-Arizona oranges, particularly Sunkist oranges. We found a level of advertising that worked. We experimented with higher levels and lower levels and we did a test marketing program. It was scrutinized beyond belief, because it was highly questionable here at Sunkist. The first effort was done when I was back at [Sunkist’s ad] agency, and we were trying to recommend this to Sunkist. I know from that experience that there is a level of advertising that it takes to change consumption habits, and I know that consumption habits can be plused, at least I think they can. I’ve not yet heard any discussion in this talk of generic advertising that would come close to generating the dollars to spend at the rate necessary to increase consumption.

PB: You’re talking about a very big increase of how much?

COLE: I’m talking about spending probably $20 million a year. If you only spend $10 million and you don’t change per-capita consumption, what do you accomplish? You’ve taken $10 million out of the growers’ pockets for no end result. It’s kind of like trying to put a satellite into orbit and not putting enough fuel in the rocket. You blew a lot of money, for nothing.

PB: Some people would say something is better than nothing, when it comes to promoting citrus or any other commodity.

COLE: I think if you really want to do this you have to do it at a proper level, with a thought-out plan, and a comprehensive recommendation based on the size of the task, not what the grower can afford, necessarily. And let the grower decide if he wants to undertake that task. But don’t just assess him 7-cents or 10-cents a carton because that’s all he can afford. If it doesn’t give you enough money to do the job, don’t do it. That’s where my concern is about the generic program.

What Ray was saying is that you don’t start with a goal and pursue it regardless of resources. One has to view a goal in the context of available resources and then adjust the goals so they are obtainable.

Ray claimed that way back in 1990, Sunkist research had found that to move the needle on consumption of California oranges, they needed to spend $20 million per year. If they only spent half, or $10 million a year, you didn’t achieve half the goal, you didn’t achieve anything. In effect you wasted the money.

Over the last 17 years, inflation has been about 60%, so that would bring us to about $32 million a year in 2007 dollars. However, more than inflation is involved… population has increased in the U.S. by about 50 million people. Plus it seems a reasonable argument that increasing overall consumption of fresh produce is going to be more difficult than increasing consumption of oranges since substitution is easier — an orange for an apple as opposed to produce for beef.

So if the Sunkist data was correct, it is easy to imagine that to move the needle on overall produce consumption we may need to spend, say, $60 million a year. If we don’t have that, and we don’t, it is unclear what benefit is derived, if any, from spending what we do have.

Put another way, we get from Paul’s letter that things were done because this was what we could do with the resources available. Fair enough. The question is whether, instead, we shouldn’t be looking for the kinds of programs that potentially could raise large sums of money and break through this Gordian Knot.

After all, if produce is the “cure” for obesity and obesity is the cause of countless hundreds of billions of dollars in expenditures by Medicare and Medicaid, it should be possible to raise money in the tens of billions, maybe more, swamping what Coca-Cola spends.

But we haven’t built our case! We have nothing to bring to Capitol Hill where we can legitimately say: “If you fund the rollout of this program across the 50 states, you will see diabetes cases drop by 30%.”

In suggesting that “Fruits and Veggies — More Matters” could have been done as a pilot program in a test market, we were looking to build a case that would merit substantial outside funding.

Paul may well be correct that the urgency of getting rid of 5 a Day, combined with the stringencies of budget, compelled us to just roll out the best we had. We, as an industry, did research to test receptivity, but not effectiveness in changing consumption patterns. Perhaps it was impossible to do that kind of research at that moment in time.

We want to make clear that we did not say and did not intend to imply that we thought that ‘Fruits and Veggies — More Matters’ was a ‘failed effort’ — we do not believe that. It is brand new, still getting started. Our point was simply that the type and level of testing being done won’t get us big funding from outside the industry.

The good news is we can still test programs. We’ve been pushing the Food Dudes program here and here. Why can’t we support a pilot program in the U.S.? Afterall, the research in the U.K. and Ireland was sufficiently strong that Ireland is now rolling it out countrywide.

We need to look for programs that, if successful, could attract funding from outside the produce industry.

One thing Paul need not worry about is our finding of “merit” in any particular course PBH may take. We think it is important to discuss these issues, but we are not so arrogant as to think that we cannot be wrong.

So for basically as long as there has been a 5 a Day program, we have supported the effort and we have continued to support the Fruits and Veggies — More Matters initiative. We have donated in excess of $1 million dollars in advertising to boost PBH’s fundraising and trade efforts and have always made a point of helping PBH get support for its initiatives, as we did with this contest that PBH was promoting.

We respect Elizabeth Pivonka, the staff and the board members and think they have been given a thankless task. They need more money, many multiples of what they have, and we want to find ways to completely change the paradigm under which PBH operates so that this scale of fundraising can occur.

That is what we are bucking for, but Paul and PBH can count on our support as we struggle to get there.

Many thanks again to Paul and to C.H. Robinson for helping us address this important issue.

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