California avocados are now available at retail with new "California" brand labels. The California Avocado Commission's labeling initiative is backed by a significant level of marketing support to make sure consumers know to look for them. Consumer communication includes print, radio and online, including a new video series, "A Look Behind the Label," which takes the viewer into the grove and brings to life the points of differentiation and competitive advantages of California avocados.
The idea of developing a strong connection between CAC's consumer advertising campaign and the California brand at point-of-sale is a concept the California Avocado Commission has embraced for more than two decades. CAC considered it when PLU stickers were first implemented and again when it launched the 'California Avocado Grower' campaign in 2008.
"Our goal is to have California avocados with a prominent label designating that point of origin in an artful way that mirrors the messaging CAC presents to consumers and retailers in its marketing campaign," CAC President Tom Bellamore said in a press release.
Bellamore explained that although some packers use labels that tout California, the origin is often in fine print and most consumers pass right over it when selecting avocados.
"We needed to make "California" more prominent and graphically compatible with the designs we use in our marketing campaign," he said. "Convincing packers to make a change was not without difficulty. For a variety of legitimate business reasons, many avocado packers had previously not made California-branded labeling a priority. In the first place, most packers source from several different points of origin, and creating a seamless supply of avocados for their customers is important to them. There are also logistical issues involved in adding a sticker to the fruit in the packingline or redesigning a label, especially at start up."
To persuade packers to embrace CAC's label initiative, the commission conducted consumer testing, first through focus groups and then in-store research.
"We know, based on research, that shoppers already prefer premium California-grown avocados," Bellamore said. "So it was no real surprise that the consumer response was very positive when 'California' was clearly visible on labeled fruit."
In the end, it may well be the California avocado growers themselves that made the difference. Avocado packers not only compete for market share, they also compete for growers' fruit, and California avocado growers have long made it clear to the commission that having a prominent California label on each avocado is something they want.
For the 2014 season, CAC hoped to convince one or two packers to take a small step and launch a pilot program, but once a couple of packers said they were willing to try, the majority came aboard. To date, 10 of the California avocado industry's 13 largest packers are presently using or have plans to use "California" brand labels on the fruit by the start of the 2015 season.
There is a two-sticker option that involves adding a prominent "California" brand label with CAC-designed artwork to the fruit alongside the packer's label bearing the PLU barcode. CAC also has designed a California-branded label that includes a barcode, and there is a California branded PLU label. Some packers are working with the basic CAC design and adding their name or brand.
Bellamore sees CAC's branded label initiative as a no-lose proposition. He said if the label can be added to the fruit without substantial incremental cost, there is no downside. "Consumers want it. Retailers want it. Growers want it. It's just the right thing to do," said Bellamore.
CAC's consumer messaging emphasizes the California avocado label with a call to action to look for them.