Tie-in With Bike Tour Grows Melon Demand Anyone selling or buying cantaloupe knows that time is of the essence. If the cantaloupe is not sweet-smelling and a little bit soft on the rind, then it's probably past its prime. So what's a supplier to do when it's got too much of a good, perishable thing? It can either cut its losses or be proactive and get the word out to consumers to stir up demand for the melon. Asgrow Seed Co., a Saticoy, Calif.-based seed supplier to California's Westside (San Joaquin Valley) melon growers, recognizing that cantaloupe sales in the summer lagged, decided that new marketing tactics were needed to help its customers--the growers--sell their surplus. Asgrow and Morgan & Myers (M&M)/The Thoms Group, a Minneapolis PR firm, created a cause-related program whimsically named "Mel-on-Wheels (MOW)." The goal was to, create enthusiasm among consumers, stimulate cantaloupe sales and subsequently, equalize summer supply and demand. Building a Foundation Informal research throughout 1994 was based on meetings with customer sales forces in the industry who said that there was not a strong enough demand for their fruits and vegetables. The basis of the summer 1995 campaign was a 1993 pilot program designed originally for seedless watermelon. Mel-on-Wheels was tested to see if it could generate a high level of media coverage and excitement for the product. MOW, limited to the Midland, Texas, market, worked with The National Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society chapters to serve watermelon at roadside rest stops during its regular 150-mile bike tours. Asgrow wanted to see how far it could take the program, hoping that if it proved successful, it could be expanded into multiple, larger markets, with other types of melon. Local papers and TV stations reported on the program, and Asgrow felt the program was a success. Executing the Program MOW's target audience was California's Westside cantaloupe growers/shippers and the produce retailers in four major markets: Minneapolis, Atlanta, the Dallas/Fort Worth area and Philadelphia. Asgrow partnered with local MS chapters in the area and donated melons for the bike tours. Part of getting the retailers involved was promoting the Mission-Line Asgrow cantaloupes in stores. M&M sent out information packets asking the supermarkets in these areas to participate in the program, offering the retailers promotional materials, a chance to boost their sales and build a strong relationship with growers and shippers who could give them a top quality product. Local promotions and the bike tours were conducted simultaneously in the targeted cities between late July and September, 1995. Asgrow provided a cantaloupe stand with posters and a specially-painted bicycle, where customers could sign to win the bike. Supermarket employees and MS bike-tour volunteers wore promotional cantaloupe T-shirts to generate excitement for the program. The program proved successful, with trade media coverage appearing in five of Asgrow's seven most important publications, including Agri-Marketing and Produce News. Following the campaign, at the Produce Marketing Association Convention in San Diego in October 1995, Asgrow had a cantaloupe and bike display, and the director of produce merchandising and industry relations at Asgrow, Leo Zanoni, was available for interviews. M&M conducted a follow-up fax survey to gauge whther the promotion proved valuable to growers and shippers in the San Joaquin Valley. Out of 21 key shippers, about half responded. Of those, 29 percent said the program was valuable to the business and 71 percent said the program was somewhat valuable to them. Perhaps most important, 90 percent of the respondents said that MOW-type programs would boost retail sales. Although supermarkets would not provide exact numbers on how much sales increased due to the program, they did say that customers were enthusiastic about the program and that product sales did increase. Bernice Neumann, a counselor at M&M, says that one of the biggest challenges was working with a perishable commodity. "Even if you have everything planned out, something could go wrong. The cantaloupe had to be in the stores, fresh, on the right day." Zanoni said the toughest part of the campaign was getting started and educating the people involved. It was very successful because, "produce already has a lot going for it, but when you associate it with a cause and get the community involved, it's an added plus...[and] becomes a feel-good project." (M&M, 612/920-1443; Asgrow, 616/384-5612) Executing "Mel-on-Wheels" Cantaloupe Campaign Working with its public relations firm, Morgan & Myers/The Thoms Group, Asgrow Seed Co. worked with its customers (melon growers), retailers and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society to conduct a campaign, "Mel-on-Wheels," to build demand for fresh melons in the summer of 1995. The program elements included: Partnering with growers' customers and major retailers on in-store cantaloupe promotions over the summer.Linking Mel-on-Wheels with 150-mile-bike tours run by National Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society chapters.Helping retailers link with growers who could supply the Mission-Line melons for the in-store promotions.

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