The decrease in per capita consumption of pecans in the U.S. and loss of market share to almonds and other nuts showed that traditional marketing to consumers was not effective. Research by ST!R Marketing showed food manufacturing makes up approximately 70 percent of the market, resulting in a switch from B2C to B2B marketing, which then would lead to increased consumer adoption.
Insights and Strategy Summary
Deep-dive research in the nut verticals showed that pecans could not compete with federally-funded marketing spending and influence by competitor nuts–speciﬁcally pistachios and almonds. Other factors were high pecan prices, unreliable supply and an old-fashioned, seasonal image. We also found that pecan pieces are more abundant than pecan halves and more affordable, yet they are the hardest to sell. The biggest market for pieces is in food products.
We recommended the Commission refocus efforts on a strong online and earned media communications plan targeting food manufacturers, which then would lead to increase pecan sales and per capita consumption as a snack, ingredient and export product.
Our tactics included:
- Development of campaigns across social media channels targeting grocery reps, R&D and ingredient scientists, and brand managers to promote pecans as product ingredients
- Formation of the Center for Pecan Innovation, which has partnered with food development experts at the University of Georgia to pioneer new products (pecan butter, health bars and protein coatings)
- Creation of a Center for Pecan Innovation (CPI) LinkedIn group to reach more manufacturers
- Earned and unearned media successes in multiple trade publications focused on promoting pecan meal, butter, pieces and more to food, ingredients, snacking and grocery targets.
- Presence of the Center for Pecan Innovation at inﬂuential food trade shows including the global Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) Expo and SNAXPO, where we demonstrated new snack, dessert, and meat-substitute pecan prototypes such as our pecan-based vegan spring roll
- Redesign of the Commission’s web page to focus on the ingredient market and the nutritional beneﬁts of gluten-free pecans
Award-winning campaign changes focus from B2C to B2B marketing for new pecan product development.
While project development from idea research to grocery shelf averages about 12 months, we proved that food manufacturers have rediscovered and are interested in pecans. In our first year we:
- Contacted more than 800 companies to offer them free pecan pieces, meal, oil and butter for R&D. While some companies have regulations that do not allow them to accept our offer, we have shipped and/or had requests from 400+ companies for pecans to test in product development, including giants like Frito-Lay, Pilgrim’s Pride, Post Foods, The J.M. Smucker Company and White Wave (Silk).
- Sold more than $8 million potentially missed earnings by facilitating product bidding via the CPI LinkedIn site, repositioned “waste” products as assets, and eliminating millions of pounds of overstock through product innovation and direct trade show sales
- Reversed three-year, 30% decline in domestic pecan sales and returned 11% growth to the market in first year
I never knew pecans were so versatile. My co-chefs and I ordered some of everything to take back to the lab.
– a Frito-Lay R&D chef at the TOPS expo
- Shipped hundreds of pounds of meal, pecan ﬂour, midget pieces, pecan butter; dozens of pounds of large pieces, halves and granules, and 364 ounces of pecan oil for product development. We attended a dozen national or global food technology expos and followed up on more than 550 qualiﬁed leads.
- Were invited to an invitation-only TOPS Frito-Lay/PepsiCo trade show, limited to Frito-Lay/PepsiCo R&D scientists and marketing personnel. That show resulted in very favorable focus testing on a new product using pecan meal that they plan to take to market.
This campaign has won the highest honors from the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC): regional Silver Quill and international Gold Quill awards. The social media campaign also won a Flame from the Atlanta chapter of IABC.
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