In a move that essentially creates a national marketing and promotion program for baby carrots, Bakersfield, Calif.-based Bolthouse Farms is spending an estimated $25 million to pit the carrots against junk food — and is asking competitors to join the initiative.

Bolthouse invites competitors to join junk food campaign

Courtesy Crispin Porter + Bogusky

Baby Carrots brand baby carrots in three different packages owner Bolthouse Farms describes as futuristic, extreme and sexy/indulgent are set to launch in test markets Sept. 6.

In the campaign, the Bolthouse brand (which claims 50% of the market) is supplanted by the Baby Carrots brand, and different grower-shippers would be able to use the same packaging.

Baby Carrots: Eat ‘Em Like Junk Food, opens in three test markets — Syracuse, N.Y.; San Antonio/Austin, Texas, and Cincinnati — Sept. 6, and includes:

  • Three 3-ounce package designs that mimic flashy potato chip bags;
  • In-store fixtures, signs and point-of-sale materials at Kroger, Wegmans and H.E.B. stores;
  • Baby Carrot-exclusive vending machines in a high school and a college in Syracuse and Cincinnati;
  • TV spots that use junk food advertising tactics;
  • Billboards;
  • A video game app, Xtreme Xrunch Kart.

A website that launched in late August, www.babycarrots.com, has details on many of the campaign elements, including information for consumers and for growers interested in joining the effort.

“We’re in the early stages of what will ultimately be a national campaign,” said Bryan Reese, chief marketing officer at Bolthouse Farms. “We hope Baby Carrots will be everywhere in the store where there’s refrigeration. We really want to change the way people think about carrots.”

Bolthouse estimates $25 million is needed to get the campaign — by Crispin Porter + Bogusky, the public relations/advertising company with Burger King and Old Navy ads — from start-up to a national level. If Bolthouse can get other baby carrot marketers on board, it expects to share the costs — and successes — of running promotions in the future.

“We know that commodity advertising campaigns build awareness and volume in those categories, so it makes sense that a unique approach to baby carrot advertising will also work to grow the category” Reese said.

The first national appearance of the Baby Carrots brand is scheduled for October when Bolthouse plans to roll-out Scarrots, baby carrots packed in small bags for trick-or-treating handouts. Plans call for Scarrots to be shipped in 25-count packs, each with a glow-in-the-dark tattoo.

Bolthouse is also working on applications for the Super Bowl and all fall and winter holidays.

Although Bolthouse is banking on junk food-like marketing, Reese admits there are important differences between promoting produce and manufactured snacks.

“The junk food brands, they can turn on supplies very quickly. We have to grow for it,” Reese said. “It’s going to take five or six months to grow, pack and ship Baby Carrots to meet demand, so we have to be very careful about how we roll out nationally.”

Reese said the obesity crisis in the U.S., along with consumer demand for value, puts baby carrots in a perfect position to see growth in consumer demand.

“We have a product that is a perfect fit for these values, yet the carrot category has been flat for several years, and baby carrots have even seen a decline, due to some people switching from baby carrots to whole carrots,” Reese said. “So we have a product that fits perfectly, but we needed a creative solution.”

Bolthouse claims almost a 50% market share in the carrot category, Reese said.

Most people enjoy the taste of carrots, and most know they’re healthy, but people think of carrots as a vegetable instead of as a snack, an issue Crispin Porter + Bogusky set out to tackle, said Tiffany Rolfe, the agency’s vice president and group creative director.

“The most successful snacks have a lot of attitude,” Rolfe said. “When we looked at baby carrots, we realized they’re bright orange, they have crunch, they’re snackable, just like a cheese doodle or a Dorito. But vegetable can be a little bit of a bad word, so we though let’s turn it into its own brand, the Baby Carrots brand, and it lives in its own world, the snacking world, not the vegetable world.”

Borrowing a page from competition's marketing playbook can be a great tactic, said Julia Stewart, public relations director for the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association.

"This campaign is built on the platform that our competition is not other produce items, it's the snack food aisle. Let's fight fire with fire," Stewart said. "We know that consumers don't snack for health like they should, so let's appeal to the reason they do snack: for great flavor."

Bolthouse hopes to grow a group it calls A Bunch of Carrot Farmers and let the campaign span across the entire carrot category through cooperation with other grower-shippers.

“The idea is that it’s a bunch of carrot farmers that all have a goal of building carrot consumption,” Reese said. “We hope to get other bigger producers involved.”

The group had 49 growers as of Sept. 2, most or all of which are Bolthouse Farms growers. Reese said he has his sights set on other companies, including Grimmway and Kern Ridge Growers.

"Grimmway Farms is excited about Bolthouse Farms' announcement to promote baby carrots," said Phil Gruszka, vice president of marketing. "Healthy eating is what the entire produce industry is all about. We all want to encourage consumers to increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables."

Gruzska did not say whether his company had yet considered joining the campaign, but said Grimmway Farms will continue to do as it has always done, working closely with its customers to design programs that fit their individual needs and help drive sales.

During the pilot phase, joining the group does not necessarily give producers access to the new Baby Carrots packaging, logos or materials, but it makes them a part of the campaign’s progression, Reese said.

Bolthouse plans to add the “A Bunch of Carrot Farmers” logo to its existing packaging across all lines, and eventually add a campaign tagline and the www.babycarrots.com website. It will evaluate the results of the test markets in December and formulate a national rollout based on those for the 2010.

“We’re really just waiting to see what the test markets produce, but if you look at other commodity advertising, growth could range all the way from 2-1 payback to 10-1 payback,” Reese said. “We’re just looking to see what we can do, but we really think we can move the needle.”