|US: The big war over a small fruit|
|Thursday, 26 July 2012|
The Cutie, a small, glossy, deep-orange citrus fruit is, acre for acre, the most profitable citrus in America. The story behind this mandarin/clementine variant is a fascinating tale of of big-money marketing... From a hillock in the San Joaquin Valley, Berne Evans III recently surveyed a citrus grove that stretches as far as the eye can see. "It's the largest clementine planting in the world," he said, smiling.
The groves make Evans the king of the Cuties, a brand of seedless, sweet and easy-to-peel mandarin that has stormed the nation's fruit aisles and changed eating habits that span generations. The navel orange, after reigning supreme for decades, has a challenger.
The rise of Cuties heralds the arrival of big-money marketing in a tradition-steeped corner of American industry. Techniques once reserved for promoting consumer products have now made their way into the produce section. Just as people have long asked for a "Kleenex" instead of a tissue, they are starting to ask for "Cuties" when they mean mandarins.
Berne Evans III walks among the Cuties, a mandarin brand he helped create that is transforming the citrus business and changing American shopping habits.
"I can't think of any other produce that has done this," says John Ball of San Diego branding firm MiresBall. It's "a name that is the thing."
Cuties reflect a defining reality of the American consumer experience: Convenience sells. It's a simple idea, applied in an unexpected place in the case of Cuties. Few people may have looked at the traditional orange and considered it a candidate for the classic American "new and improved" treatment.
But part of the Cuties marketing message trumpets the fact that children find it easier to peel. "We are a very impatient nation," says Jerry Della Femina, of Della Femina Advertising in New York. "We have always led the way on, 'Isn't this the easiest way to do it?'"
Cuties fit the long-standing pattern of transformative marketing insights that have shaped the US consumer-product landscape. The automatic washing machine changed the nature of the American household. The remote control upended TV advertising. The advent of pre-peeled baby carrots in a bag redefined cubicle snacking at office parks coast to coast.
It's too early, of course, to elevate the seedless mandarin to a place in this pantheon. But in the meantime, the small, glossy, deep-orange fruit is, acre for acre, the most profitable citrus in America. Across California's citrus belt, farmers are ripping out orange, lemon and grapefruit trees to switch to mandarins.
Evans, 67 years old, built his empire with Stewart and Lynda Resnick, the Beverly Hills billionaire marketers of Fiji Water and Pom Wonderful pomegranate juice. Eight years ago they launched the Cuties brand.
Evans and his group spent considerable sums to try to capture shoppers' attention. That strategy is spawning a marketing battle as rivals trumpet their own seedless, easy-to-peel brands: Darling Clementines, Delite, Clem'NTina's, Bee Sweet.
The origins of Cuties
Cuties have their origin in a 1990 freeze that badly damaged California's citrus harvest. Evans, a stockbroker-turned-farmer and already into tomatoes, oranges and kiwi at the time, caught wind of the fact that Spanish clementines were selling well on the East Coast. "Supermarket chains told me, 'If you can grow 'em, they'll sell,'" he recalls.
He hired experts to confirm that the fruit could endure the San Joaquin Valley's weather extremes. He dispatched his oldest son to research clementine groves abroad. "Put my inheritance in clementines," Evans recalls his son, Barney, telling him over the phone.
Ready to bet big, Evans signed a deal with a nursery in 1996 to multiply clementine trees and sell them exclusively to him, locking in a head start over rivals. Still, Evans was worried about a certain set of neighbours — the Resnicks, who ran one of the country's largest fruit and nut operations.
The Resnicks made a fortune marketing coins and collectibles before turning California pomegranate groves into the Pom Wonderful juice brand.....
Wall Street Journal: Read the full article