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RETAIL VIEW: Consumer rewards program comes to produce

For what it believes is the first time ever, Chiquita Brands International has launched a consumer rewards and loyalty program in the retail produce department.

"From our analysis, this is the first time that a consumer awards program has been done for fresh produce," Bryan Brown, director of corporate communications for Cincinnati-based Chiquita, told The Produce News. "Certainly there are food companies that have consumer-relationship marketing programs out there in other product categories, but we have been able to find nothing like this in the produce department."

Selected "Chiquita" and "Fresh Express" branded products are participating in the awards program, and each of the participating products has a point value ranging from 10 to 40 that the consumer can collect and redeem through a Chiquita-sponsored web site, which mirrors the name of the promotion - www.freshfunds.com.

Mr. Brown said that on a weekly basis, an auction is held on the site allowing consumers to bid on various rewards. The high bidder can then cash in the points he or she has accumulated. The accumulated points can also be used to donate cash to a charitable organization, including the Susan G. Koman for the Cure cancer charity or The American Cancer Society Relay for Life.

According to Chiquita, the Fresh Funds program is targeting professional women and is touted in a company press release as "a direct-to-consumer loyalty program designed to increase purchase frequency as well as promote awareness."

The promotion is aimed at women who place a priority on health and wellness, and who associate healthy eating with well-being.

In the company press release, Brian Kocher, president of Chiquita's North America division, said, "Fresh Funds is another way we are able to meet the consumer's need for great taste and good nutrition that delivers real value."

Mr. Brown told The Produce News that the Fresh Funds program rewards both customers and retailers by driving repeat sales and increasing consumer purchases in the produce department. The program was launched Aug. 15 and is open-ended at this point. He said that participation and retailer feedback will be evaluated on an ongoing basis through the holiday period and into 2009.

Largely because it is an Internet-based effort, it was launched through an on-line marketing program. Chiquita used a number of social networking sites such as MySpace and FaceBook to create buzz about the rewards program on the Internet, according to Mr. Brown.

"To date, we have had over 400,000 clicks on a video that creates awareness of the program," he said.

Chiquita used point-of-sale materials to create in-store awareness, and it also contacted some consumers through direct mailers and other promotional materials based on the needs and the desires of its participating retail customers.

Mr. Brown said that the program is nationwide, and retailers from all over the United States are carrying the specially marked packages of "Chiquita" and "Fresh Express" brand items.

The point totals associated with various products are obviously designed to encourage purchases of specific items. Forty points are awarded for the purchase of Fresh Express salad blends/baby blends, complete salads/salad kits and Gourmet Caf? salads, as well Chiquita Bites family packs and Go- Packs of carrots. A purchase of a Fresh Express Premium Garden Salads & Shreds as well as Chiquita Bites singles receive 20 points. Fresh Express spinach, basic garden and coleslaw packs will reward the consumer with 10 points each.

Mr. Brown said that it is still too early to quote specific consumer participation, but he indicated that Chiquita is pleased with its early results. He said that retailer feedback has been very good and reiterated that the program is open to all U.S. retailers.

"Retailer support is very important to the success of the program, and so far we have been encouraged by their participation and feedback," he said. He encouraged retailers to work with their individual Chiquita representative on the program.