- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 5, 2008

MILWAUKEE | Wisconsin’s cranberry harvesters had some help this year from far, far away.

Japanese marketers pitched in to rake berries during a multiday tour designed to educate them about the fruit they hope to sell to their countrymen.

Back home, they will run recipe contests and oversee an infomercial and a glossy-magazine spread featuring a Thanksgiving feast at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo.

Their work is the latest in a strong marketing effort by the American cranberry industry to create a more stable market for the fruit following a severe price crash in the late 1990s.

Japan-based marketing Izumi Amano said most of her work for the Cranberry Marketing Committee will focus on educating Japan’s health-conscious consumers about cranberries’ nutritional benefits.

It’s an approach that has served her well in promoting foods for the USA Poultry and Egg and California Pistachio export councils. She has touted turkey as high in protein and low in calories and promoted pistachios to middle-age men and women concerned about cholesterol.

“We are an aging society,” Miss Amano said. “Sooner or later, one-fourth of the population will be over age 60 years old.”

Farm industry marketing programs are exceptional investments, said Richard Sexton, an agricultural economist at the University of California at Davis. Studies show most generate at least $2 in profit for every dollar spent, and many have much higher returns.

Some are so successful, they become part of the popular culture. Consider the American Egg Board’s “incredible edible egg,” the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s “Beef, It’s What’s for Dinner,” and the California Milk Processor Board’s “Got Milk?”

Consultant Rodger Wasson, who has worked to promote almonds, strawberries and pork, said successful marketing starts with research on foods’ nutritional and health benefits. Sometimes, industry groups pay for studies themselves.

In the case of almonds, the Almond Board of California found people were concerned that eating nuts would raise their cholesterol - a belief its research was able to refute.

“That’s the sort of thing an industry could do …, but no individual company could do it,” Mr. Wasson said. “Nor anymore could you expect the publicly funded research to do it. There just aren’t the dollars.”

Both the messages and the means marketers use to spread them have become more sophisticated in the past 10 to 15 years, he said.

Marketers who once focused on television advertising now target consumers with magazine articles, Web sites and grocery displays. They also reach out to doctors and others who can influence people’s eating habits.

Amid the growing competition, industry groups such as the Cherry Marketing Institute and the Idaho Potato Commission have brought in new leaders to upgrade their programs.

The tart-cherry industry launched a new, health-focused campaign in 2006 after deciding it needed to change “its image from cherry pie, George Washington, sticky, gooey” to compete with blueberries and other so-called “superfruits,” said Jeff Manning, chief marketing officer for the Cherry Marketing Institute.

Today, cherries are the No. 2 superfruit behind blueberries in terms of publicity, Mr. Manning said.

That, in turn, has generated demand. Mr. Manning was particularly heartened when Starbucks recently introduced a cherry scone after years of baking with blueberries and cranberries.

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