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Green Giant Fresh has become the exclusive Box Tops for Education partner for the fresh produce industry, according to Jamie Strachan, president and chief executive officer of Growers Express Inc. in Salinas, CA.

Through its Growers Marketing subsidiary, Growers Express is the master licensee for the "Green Giant Fresh" brand and manages all of the produce partners.

Mr. Strachan said that initially, the popular Box Tops for Education program will be featured on Iceberg lettuce, Romaine hearts, cauliflower, shrink- wrapped broccoli and mushrooms. The box tops, or coupons, depending upon the product, are redeemed at the rate of 10 cents per coupon by schools all over the country.

The program is the brainchild of General Mills, which started offering box top coupons of one kind or another more than 80 years ago. About two decades ago, the Box Tops for Education program began and currently includes more than 100 General Mills products or brands.

Under the program, schools collect the box tops and redeem them for cash, which is used for a variety of educational items. A recent story chronicled an Indiana school that saved the coupons for 15 years and recently redeemed them for a $14,000 music lab.

While the initial rollout of the box top program is limited to the five aforementioned items, Mr. Strachan said that it would be expanded to many other “Green Giant Fresh” branded produce items over the next several months. He believes that it is a perfect opportunity for fresh produce because the target market for the Box Tops for Education program mirrors the audience that Green Giant Fresh is going after.

With its educational tie-in, the biggest clippers of the box tops are moms with kids in school. Since its inception, the program has donated $300 million to U.S. schools, with more than 30 million households participating.

“It's a great program for schools, and many products register a double-digit sales growth by being involved,” Mr. Strachan told The Produce News. He added that the affiliation with Green Giant Fresh over the past handful of years, including the designation as master licensee two years ago, has been very successful.

“Our retail customers are seeing more value in having an iconic branded program for the same cost as competitive trade-label programs,” he said. “As we have analyzed consumer reaction to 'Green Giant Fresh’ vs. competitive trade labels or private-label brands through same-store sales analysis, it is clear that consumers prefer ‘Green Giant Fresh.’ Swapping the ‘Green Giant Fresh’ brand for others has led to double-digit impact to sales and profits in a number of different store formats, demographic areas and product scenarios tested over the past few years.”

The company recently completed a promotion with Facebook and its popular virtual farming game FarmVille. The program included 40 “Green Giant Fresh” branded products on 16 million packages over a three-month period in 4,000 stores. The promotion created many new fans for Green Giant Fresh on Facebook, with its number of followers skyrocketing to 15,608 from 3,642, according to Mr. Strachan.

The promotion allowed buyers of “Green Giant Fresh” branded products to redeem the coupon in the FarmVille game to plant virtual crops or buy virtual farm equipment. During the three-month program, almost $700,000 in Farm­Ville cash was redeemed by 75,000 participants.

Mr. Strachan said that the promotion resulted in a 7-14 percent increase in same-store profits.

“The FarmVille promotion did exactly what we had hoped it would,” he said. “It increased store traffic and sales to participating retailers while rewarding the customers in a new and exciting way. We’re looking forward to building on the promotion’s success in the near future.”

He said that the firm is looking for the Box Tops for Education program to have a similar impact — but on a long-term basis. These types of efforts “continue to differentiate our program from our competitors or private-label programs,” he said.

The success of the FarmVille effort has led to a broader social media campaign on Facebook by General Mills, which owns the “Green Giant Fresh” brand, Mr. Strachan said, adding that this increased involvement will include additional on-line promotional investment by the giant food manufacturer to support the new Green Giant Fresh Facebook community.

“We believe Box Tops for Education will have a similar impact but on a more sustained and year-round basis,” Mr. Strachan said. “Our goal with these promotions is simple: Drive store traffic, sales and profits through rewarding the consumer in new and unique ways.”