Over the course of the year, we pay tribute to 35 living Vanguards and 12 departed heroes. This month’s featured Vanguard is Barney McClure of McClure and Tjerandsen.
Originally printed in the January 2021 issue of Produce Business.
Protein and produce are two products for which the late ad and marketing man Barney McClure is famous. On the first, as one of the mover-shaker members of the Fresno, CA-based Inventors Club in the 1960s, McClure came up with the pop-up timer for roasting turkeys. Like many of his fellow Club members, McClure at the time coordinated advertising for the California Turkey Advisory Board. On the second, and what has proven much larger of an industry landmark, is McClure’s work with domestic produce commodity boards and, most importantly, establishing the first counter-season promotion of Chilean fruits.
“He had an inquisitive and inventive mind,” says Tom Tjerandsen, who with McClure partnered to form San Francisco-based McClure and Tjerandsen in 1991, albeit the two had by then known each other for well over a decade. “One of Barney’s biggest industry achievements was providing promotion for fresh produce, and helping to answer the question of who was going to pay for it – the Grower? Distributor? Retailer? The other was working to establish many of the first marketing programs for Chilean fruit exported to North America.”
McClure, who died in Atherton, California in 1996, was born in Atlanta. He was only six weeks old when his family moved to California’s Bay Area where his great-grandfather had planted a peach orchard in the state’s foothills back in the 1800s, and his grandfather started selling peaches at age 10. Like many of his generation, McClure took a different path. He graduated from Stanford University in 1942, was commissioned as a first lieutenant in the Army Air Corps flying B24s during World War II and spent a year as a prisoner of war in Germany’s Stalag Luft III. An attack with mustard gas while in the POW camp damaged his lungs. This health blow would have dampened the determination of most men, but not McClure. He returned to the Bay area and embarked on a career promoting fresh produce.
“Conventional wisdom back then was for growers to grow the product and then forget about it,” says Tjerandsen. “In the 1950s, there was quite a bit of competition for fresh by processed and frozen products, and therefore fresh produce languished. Radio was the main advertising medium then. I think the first time was in the 1950s when he and Western Research Kitchens, which was also working on the California Peach Advisory Board account, did radio tags in the Los Angeles and San Francisco markets during peak shipping periods. Tagged radio has been a part of produce commodity promotions ever since.”
The late 50s and into the 60s and 70s saw marketing orders hit a heyday for several commodity crops. During these decades, McClure worked with the Idaho Potato Commission, The Potato Board, the Washington Apple Commission, the California Table Grape Commission and the California Strawberry Advisory Board, to name a few.
“I worked with Barney back when I was at Safeway,” says Don Harris, of Harris Consulting Solutions, who in the 1980s held a series of leadership positions including director of corporate produce merchandising and marketing for the Pleasanton, CA-headquartered retailer. “He’d come in with the biggest, newest promotion for whichever commodity board he worked for. He wouldn’t take no for an answer, and I mean that in a good way. That’s because he did his homework. It wasn’t about simply doing something, but why we should do it. He analyzed the risks and rewards. His goal was to increase overall consumption.”
One of these potential risks, unheard of at the time, says Harris, was McClure’s encouraging of Safeway to promote Chilean fruit. The Chilean Fruit Exporters Association (ASOEX) had approached McClure for his company’s help to find out what produce would sell best in North American markets and then coming up with a way to introduce this fruit. He first started with table grapes during the 1980-81 season and with a marketing budget of $110,000. Today, ASOEX, through the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association, operates a multi-million dollar promotional program that covers Chilean stone fruit, berries, kiwifruit, cherries, apples and pears. Yet McClure is the one who took the first step in turning the concept of summer fruit in winter from a novelty to the norm.
David Holzworth worked with McClure when he became General Counsel to ASOEX in 1985. “A gentleman and a Scotsman, Barney McClure came to my attention in the early days in the development of the Chilean Winter Fruit campaign,” says Holzworth, who today is senior counsel for Holzworth & Kato, PC, in Washington, DC. “He worked tirelessly to make a very small promotional budget move a lot more fruit into the US. Barney also had an uncanny feel for the room and strongly identified with the work ethic of the Chilean industry.”
Perhaps the most serious obstacle overcome was the shutdown of the farm-to-fork chain resulting from a terrorist claim that table grapes from Chile were laced with cyanide. “Many so-called friends of Chile took flight. Not Barney,” says one period after Holzworth. “He stayed the course even though the funding basis of the promotional campaign depended on payments from consignment sales. And he went one step further: He became an integral part of the crisis management group and a steady voice in a time of panic. He was a man of his word.”
McClure ultimately spent 50 years in the advertising and produce marketing field, handling clients in five continents and 12 states. In addition to Chile, he also established the first promotion of New Zealand produce and developed the first trade program for both the New Zealand and California kiwi fruit industries. McClure also served as director of the Produce Marketing Association from 1977 to 1980. While today, pop-up timers still protrude from poultry when fully cooked, it will be McClure’s promotion of fresh produce, especially counter-seasonal products, that he will be most remembered as an industry Vanguard.