Tom Karst, National Editor
Tom Karst, National Editor

Just how transformational will “Sesame Street” be in the produce department be in the next two years?

On Oct. 30, first lady Michelle Obama said Sesame Workshop and the Produce Marketing Association joined the Partnership for a Healthier America in a two-year agreement to help promote fresh fruit and vegetable consumption to kids. The amazing part of the piece is that the agreement allows companies to use the strength and influence of the Sesame Street brand without a licensing fee for that two-year period.

Characters like Big Bird, Elmo and Abby Cadabby will help deliver messages about fresh fruits and vegetables, with “Sesame Street” characters on display in retail produce departments as early as mid-2014.

Ernie, Bert, Cookie Monster and Big Bird carry some swag with the very young and the not-so-young.

The show has been on since 1969, with Big Bird, Kermit the Frog, Bert and Ernie, Oscar, Grover and Cookie Monster all original characters. I was 10 at the time, and I recall my toddler/preschooler cousin Sarah was a big fan of the show. Other Sesame Street characters added over time were Mr. Snuffleupagus (1971), The Count (1972), Elmo (1980), Zoe (1993) and Abby Cadabby (2006).

By the time the show turned 10 in 1979, press accounts said 9 million U.S. children under the age of 6 were watching “Sesame Street” daily.

A six-year-old in 1979 would be 40 years old today, so the images and the characters of “Sesame Street” will ply their influence over the young and the nearly middle-aged.

Much remains to be seen on how the produce industry will use the marketing ooomph of “Sesame Street” at the retail produce level.

Is the “Sesame Street” image one that all produce marketers will want to “buy in” with to the consumer? Definitely not.

Some folks dig a NASCAR promotion, while others might be attracted to cause marketing like Fair Trade or a pink label for breast cancer awareness.

Other produce brands may not need further embellishment by “Sesame” characters.

And how much is too much Elmo? What happens to all the other licensed characters in the produce department? “Finding Nemo” may really be hard. And what happens after two years of high intensity exposure?

One of the important factors in this program’s success will be PMA’s role in the deal. They are tasked to:


  • Review all requests for Sesame Workshop assets for use in the promotions and permit use only on eligible products and according to the terms of the license agreement between Sesame Workshop and PMA;

  • Provide assistance and widely promote the opportunity to participate in the licensing program; and

  • Share with Partnership for a Healthy America the results, with metrics including number of products involved, number of companies participating and estimated sales impact.


That’s a ton of work, a ton of expectations to meet.

So we ask again: Just how big a footprint will “Sesame Street” have in the produce department over the next two years?

It could be Big Bird huge.


I had to chuckle at one of the observations of Bruce Peterson in a recent conversation about trade shows in general and PMA Fresh Summit in particular.

Peterson, president of Peterson Insights, Fayetteville, Ark., and former Wal-Mart produce executive, said the idea of new product introductions at trade shows is all well and good. But from the perspective of a retail buyer, Peterson said that approach may not cut it.

“I don’t care if you are Kroger or Safeway or Wal-Mart or whatever, if I (as a buyer) was to actually walk into a show and saw something new from a supplier that we were doing a reasonable amount of business with, that would have been a problem for the supplier,” Peterson said.

Surprises are not welcome from business partners, the message seems to be.

Interestingly, Peterson said the growing concentration of market share among retailers is a trend that may affect the value of trade shows going forward.

With the concentration of procurement, or buying power among retail chains — he said six U.S. chains now may account for 70% of purchases — many retailers are meeting suppliers outside of the trade show realm.

In a conversation with Dick Spezzano, owner of Spezzano Consulting Service in Monrovia, Calif., the always-informed retail consultant said the cost of exhibiting is one factor in the industry’s push for one national trade show.

Spezzano said every produce company has to make business decisions on whether to support both organizations and both conventions — PMA and Fresh Summit — and also what size booth to exhibit and what the spend is going to be. Expenses for a large booth and related expenses for transporting people and product, along with food and lodging costs, can run well over $100,000, Spezzano said.

“It is not hard to get over $100,000 and get near the area of $200,000,” he said.

Spezzano said there are many ways to participate in trade shows. Some may elect to have a big presence on the floor, while others might choose to have zero presence on the floor and instead step up with sponsorships. Others may have no floor presence, no sponsorships, but only work the floor and cocktail parties.

And so while the conversation about the failed merger has ended, the adjustments by the industry in its roiling wake may have only just begun.

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