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THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX
A PR RECIPE FOR SUCCESS - PAUL BEANYAN AND NORTHARVEST GROUP JOIN FORCES
We were all kids once. Remember those great lunchtime cafeteria meals? Well, to paraphrase Bob Dylan, times have changed. School cafeterias today are filled with salad bars, pizza, burgers and a host of other nutritious and sometimes less-than- nutritious foods.

While I’m on this sentimental journey to days gone by, I’m also reminiscing to myself about my boyhood days growing up in Minnesota. If you’re from Minnesota, and you grew up in the ’50s and ’60s, you had to live in a cave not to know about Paul Bunyan and his blue ox, Babe. This lumberman of gargantuan proportions was famous for his feats of strength and his huge appetite.

So, how about this segue from cafeterias and Paul Bunyan to a creative recipe promotion with elementary schools kids using dry beans as the major ingredient and a mascot known as Paul Beanyan? Fact is sometimes truer than fiction.

This is a story about recipes. This is a story about kids and recipes and the Northarvest Bean Growers Association. The organization is made up of 4,000 dry bean growers in the Upper Midwest of Minnesota and North Dakota. Almost half of the dry beans in the country are grown in this area, by far the largest dry bean area in the U.S.

Northarvest was looking for ways to increase the awareness of dry beans and their tasty, nutritional value among kids, along with a long-range program that would have an impact on consumption. It also wanted a stronger, local focus for its dry bean promotion to its members.

So, the first-ever Paul Beanyan "Use Your Bean" Recipe Contest was created with elementary school children in Minnesota and North Dakota. The intent of the contest was to have elementary school students in grades one through six "show off their cooking skills by entering an original, great-tasting bean recipe that serves at least five people…"

The recipe had to feature such popular bean varieties as Navy, Kidney (Light or Dark Red), Pinto or Black beans. Dry-packaged and/or canned beans could be used and the recipes were to be judged on taste, creativity, kid appeal, healthfulness and convenience.

WORKING WITH KIDS

"We’ve worked for years with school lunch programs nationally to bring more awareness to the nutritional value of dry beans in school menus," says Tim Courneya, executive vice president of Northarvest. "We’ve done national recipe contests (through the American Dry Bean Board) at the consumer level around the U.S. We knew these types of efforts would create an important link between consumers and raise the awareness of dry beans."

Courneya calls the "Use Your Bean" Recipe Contest with kids a pilot program with larger ambitions down the road. "We hope this program has enough impact, once we’re done analyzing it, to do it nationally," he says. "The audience we need to reach is kids and raising their awareness is the key to future consumer use of our products."

The contest kicked off at the beginning of the school year in September ’99, and culminated at the end of March, with the top four recipes being judged by fourth grade students at Poplar Bridge Elementary School in Bloomington, Minn., a Minneapolis suburb. The judging coincided with National Nutrition Month.

One winning recipe was chosen from kids submitting entries in grades one through three, a second winner from grades four through six.

Therese Schueneman, senior account executive for Northarvest’s public relations agency - MS&L out of Chicago - has represented Northarvest since 1997. The agency also runs the Bean Education and Awareness Network (BEAN) for the American Dry Bean Board.

"We’ve focused mainly on foodservice public relations programs," Schueneman says. "We’ve developed education programs about beans for cooking schools, collaborated with chefs like Susan Goss (of the famous Zinfandel Restaurant in Chicago) on educational videos about cooking with beans and created outreach programs for food preparers in schools. Northarvest saw what we could do and wanted us to help them develop tactics to reach consumers in Minnesota and North Dakota."

MEDIA RELATIONS

The PR program began in September with an announcement about the program throughout media in both states. Major media picked up on the promotion and ran contest information in their food sections. Weeklies also ran information on the contest.

Packets were sent to public and private elementary schools in Minnesota and North Dakota. The packets contained an official entry form, a handout on "Bean Basics" and "Soaking Secrets for Dry Beans" (my favorite), a primer sheet on "So, What Is A Bean?" and prize information. Each winner received $500 and a $500 donation to the school’s foodservice program. Entries could also be found on Northarvest’s web site.

Contest entries were received until the end of December. In March, the judging event was held. Local CBS affiliate WCCO Television attended the event and an interview with registered dietitian Jodie Shield of JM Foods, a nutrition communications company in Chicago, was done on WCCO Radio, a CBS-owned AM radio station leader in the Twin Cities. Shield assisted Paul Beanyan in conducting the recipe contest judging and she also spoke to the fourth grade class that judged the entries on nutrition.

Shield writes for Healthy Kids magazine, a publication of the American Academy of Pediatrics. She also answers nutritional questions on a new Web site managed by the Board of Pediatricians at Beansprout.net.

"Beans are a nutritional powerhouse for kids," she says. "Northarvest’s main goal is to get kids to like beans. Research shows that what children eat when they’re young carries over and continues when they’re adults. Adults need some food that’s low in fat and they should have some meatless meals. Bean dishes are great to meet those needs."

After the contest, news releases were sent throughout the two states. Local media relations in the winners’ hometowns ensued. Plans also call for the recipes to appear in School Foodservice and Nutrition, a publication of the American School Food Service Association.

Oh, which recipes won? I had to keep that to the end so you’d read the whole column. Justin Wilson, a third grader at Harwood Elementary in Harwood, N.D., won the first through third grade contest with his Chili recipe. In the fourth through sixth grade category, Courtney Haase from Lidgerwood Public School in Lidgerwood, N.D., won with her Mexican Bean Pizza recipe. Both kids had assistance from their parents in the process.

"I was really impressed with the judges (the kids)," Schueneman says. "I thought they had simple tastes and wouldn’t give different kinds of food a chance. But they had real discriminating tastes. They suggested some items to be more or less spicy. They were really responsive and enjoyed it thoroughly."

Adds Shield, "I wasn’t surprised the pizza won. Kids like foods they are familiar with. But all the dishes tasted great. The chili beat out the taco casserole. That was a little bit of a surprise."

The students were excited to discover that they just might find these recipes on the menu at their school in the future, not to mention other schools around Minnesota and North Dakota as well. "They asked the foodservice director if they could have these recipes served at school," Schueneman remarks. "They were thrilled when the answer was yes!"AM

 

Den Gardner owns Gardner & Gardner Communications, New Prague, Minn.


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