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PURSUING PERFECTION
Today super sizing is a common trend. From french fries to farm trucks and bulk chemicals, bigger usually means better with any consumer. But one exception is watermelon. We all know how cumbersome and wasteful watermelon can be, but the fruit is an American tradition ranking with apple pie and baseball.

To make things more convenient and fun for consumers, Dulcinea Farms LLC, Ladera Ranch, Calif., introduced the first seedless, miniature watermelon. Dulcinea Farms, a partnership between Syngenta and Tanimura & Antle, began in 2003 with the philosophy to develop products that meet the needs of the consumer - a product with the size, shape, color and taste that provides "the ultimate produce eating experience."

Matt Goldthwaite, marketing manager for Dulcinea, explains," The big difference in Dulcinea is that most other produce companies develop fruit with the farmer in mind. Dulcinea starts with the consumer and asks them what they want. Then, we work backwards through the chain to meet those expectations."

This is done with the help of its parent companies. Syngenta develops the seeds that produce Dulcinea's unique fruits, while Tanimura & Antle - a technologically advanced U.S. grower with more than 45,000 crop acres - provides the farming system for the produce.

Dan Burdett, head of vegetable seeds, NAFTA, for Syngenta Seeds, and chairman of the board for Dulcinea, says that Syngenta's competency in genetics and breeding, combined with Tanimura & Antle's downstream and production experience is a great combination of expertise and abilities. Together, these two agriculture powerhouses are yielding produce that delivers attributes important to consumers.

FRUITS OF LABOR

What does the consumer want in a great watermelon? According to Goldthwaite, Dulcinea has conducted extensive consumer research to learn exactly what attributes customers desire in their produce.

"Consumers are constantly looking for improvements in the produce they buy. We want good-tasting, healthy, high-quality produce every day of the year," Burdett adds.

In numerous nationwide focus groups and other attitudinal and awareness studies, Dulcinea found that many consumers feel traditional watermelons are bulky, not sweet enough, have thick rinds that are wasteful, and are bothered by seeds. With this in mind, in 2003 Dulcinea introduced PureHeart™ seedless watermelons that weigh between three to six pounds (resembling the size of a cantaloupe), and have a deeper red color and sweeter taste than most melons. Although smaller in size, PureHeart still provides a generous amount of fruit thanks to a distinctively smaller rind that measures 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch.

Introduced in June 2004, consumers are also enjoying Dulcinea's Extra Sweet Tuscan-style™ cantaloupe. Distinguished by its deep-grooved outer appearance and super-sweet fruit, Dulcinea has managed to breed functionality into this product as well. The exterior grooves change color from dark green to golden cream as the fruit ripens, so consumers know exactly when the fruit is perfect for their individual tastes.

Developed through conventional hybridization, the melons are field-grown and vine-ripened to deliver the best possible look, feel and taste. And Dulcinea stands behind this process with a rare product guarantee. Goldthwaite says the company is distinctive from other produce companies in several ways. "From picking melons in the field to cooling, storing and handling practices, Dulcinea is uniquely different from traditional watermelon companies. We are constantly pursuing perfection, and we stand behind that uniqueness with our guarantee."

PREMIUM MARKETING

Other ways that Dulcinea is differentiating itself from the competition is its in-store presentation. Dulcinea uses custom POS displays, which are an attractive and high-quality visual treat for shoppers. Goldthwaite says the product case is a four-color, high-graphics box, which has a dual purpose for safe shipping and retail displays.

To cater to customers' other senses, Dulcinea's radio spots often filter through store speakers, while in-store contests and fruit samples round out an amazing marketing experience. Consumers also walk away with company facts in the form of tear-off informational pieces that provide the concept of Dulcinea, product nutrition facts and pronunciation of the company's name to build brand awareness, says Goldthwaite.

"We are the Lexus of the produce category with our labels, Web site, shipping cases and in-store demos. Our competitors in the produce sector don't have any of that," Goldthwaite claims.

Combine the in-store experience with print, radio, regular features on cooking shows and a spot on "Oprah", and you have the foundation for a strong brand. Marketing itself as a premium brand and experience, Dulcinea is actually fashioned after a consumer packaged goods company. Goldthwaite says the company markets and sells watermelon as a good. "We try to sell an experience," he explains. In fact, the mantra of the company is to provide "the ultimate eating experience."

Overall, Dulcinea's products are what Burdett calls a "delightful experience." He says, "The PureHeart watermelon and Tuscan-style cantaloupe are both very good tasting, convenient in size, beautiful in appearance and aroma, which are the things that set the products apart. That's what Dulcinea is about - creating the ultimate eating experience."

Fortunately, this experience isn't just seasonal. Another of Dulcinea's defining characteristics is its year-round supply of PureHeart watermelons. "The constant supply is very unique right now, although it is becoming more common with other companies," Goldthwaite says. "Actually, you can get the produce year round, but the quality is often sub par. Our goal is to provide consistent high quality year round."

Retailers who carry PureHeart watermelon, such as Safeway, SuperTarget, Kroger, Whole Foods Markets, Schnucks, and Wild Oats, are also reaping the rewards of Dulcinea's marketing efforts. According to Goldthwaite, retailers who have really embraced the promotional program have seen a 30 percent increase in the product category over the past year, which means more money per square foot of display area.

The retailers aren't the only ones profiting. PureHeart sales in 2003, the introductory year, were $7 million. But in 2004, sales skyrocketed to $40 million to $45 million. This year the company has shipped nearly 20 million watermelons in the United States, where these high-quality melons are selling for $2.99 to $4.99 each.

Goldthwaite says the company intends to double sales and volume in 2005. Its expansion plans include reaching out to more foodservice and alternative channels of distribution, which hold great opportunity for Dulcinea, while continuing to grow its retail presence nationwide.

Dulcinea's exceptional produce and premium marketing plan have created waves in a very short time. From year-round supplies and extensive consumer research to visually appealing materials, the company is creating brand awareness and excited consumers, leaving no doubt that the future is sweet for Dulcinea Farms. AM


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