Published on .

March 5, 2001

By Stephanie Thompson

Bobby Banana and Miss Chiquita will go head-to-head this summer to convince moms, kids and retailers just which one is truly top banana.

Dole Fresh Fruit, which leads the $4.5 billion banana market in North America with a 32% share,

Retailers typically carry only one banana brand -- which will it be this year?
aims to rev up efforts for its Bobby Banana icon this May with a new ad campaign, retail promotions and in-school efforts all pegged to a new dance, the Dole Banana Shuffle.

Meanwhile, Chiquita Fresh North America, despite a financial restructuring at its parent company, is not slowing down its own marketing efforts. The No. 2 banana brand, which holds a 26% share, continues its annual sales-driving summer promotion program featuring longtime spokescharacter Miss Chiquita. This July, it plans an in-store, radio-supported program tied to Ford Motor Co.

Despite research from Chiquita showing bananas represent 1% of total grocery store sales and 10% of its profits, retailers typically carry only one banana brand, making differentiation crucial for banana marketers.

Bobby targets schoolchildren
This year, Dole hopes to entrench Bobby Banana as the preferred icon among kids with the Dole Banana Shuffle, kicking off in a national cable TV campaign beginning May 14 on such networks as Nickelodeon and The Cartoon Network. The ad, from Daniels & Roberts, Boca Raton, Fla., shows Bobby and a group of kids dancing and singing the snappy jingle, which entreats other kids to "shuffle your way to a healthy day."

"The Shuffle is [intended] to get kids to really think about Dole bananas, and tests showed the song and dance made Bobby more popular," said Rick Utchell, vice president of marketing, advertising, promotions and PR at Dole Fresh Fruit.

A newspaper insert May 20 offers kids a package (for $10.95) that includes coupons, a nutrition CD-ROM, a "singing" plush toy version of Bobby and a CD-ROM featuring instructions on how to do the Shuffle. Retail displays tout Bobby and the Shuffle as well as a Dole Pudding Banana Split recipe, also featured in newspaper inserts. An in-school promotion is also planned.

Chiquita readies counter measures
Chiquita's fifth annual summer promotion kicks off in July, featuring a tie-in with Ford that likely will include a consumer sweepstakes. Although declining to provide details of this year's effort, Sherrie Terry, vice president of marketing, said the promotion typically drives banana volume 18% for retailers that participate.

"Large [retail] chains make decisions about which banana brand to carry on an annual basis, and we can prove to them that stores that carry Chiquita sell more than those that carry other brands," Ms. Terry said. Chiquita's greater sales and consumer preference of 3 to 1, she added, is in large part due to the brand's promotions, which support the recognizable Miss Chiquita icon, jingle and blue label. The Botsford Group, Atlanta, handles promotions for Chiquita, while Doner, Southfield, Mich., handles advertising for the company.

Shareholders of Chiquita's parent, Chiquita Brands International, last month hired investment bank Gordian Group LP to explore business combinations that might restore value to the company, which is operating under a heavy debt load and acknowledged in January the possibility of declaring bankruptcy.

Copyright March 2001, Crain Communications Inc.

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