A symbiotic, historic partnership unfolds into a broad multi-year, healthy living initiative to help parents encourage healthier eating.
From a corporate values and brand alignment perspective, dreams do come true, says John King, vice president-licensing, Disney Consumables, Burbank, CA, describing the Dole/Disney partnership and its sweeping collaboration.
The multi-phased “nutrition alliance,” aimed at encouraging families to make healthier food choices and increase produce consumption, has really just taken off with diverse program tentacles planned for the future, says King. It leverages Dole’s strong retail positioning and health and wellness acumen with Disney’s wholesome brand portfolio and wide scope of content providers under the Walt Disney Company umbrella.
Bil Goldfield, director of corporate communications for Dole Food Company, Westlake Village, CA, says this large-scale strategy is about capitalizing on the overarching themes and story lines in Disney movies and with Disney characters that intertwine healthy lifestyles and make nutritious eating fun. The goal is to develop associations that are more long-lasting, rather than the often disconnected, fleeting character promotions flashed on countless unhealthy products tantalizing children throughout the grocery aisles. So, when children see the Disney character on a package of Dole fresh fruit, their sensibilities are redirected and those themes are reinforced in a deeper way.
“When we were courting each other, we didn’t want a one-hit wonder, a get-in-and-out campaign,” says King. “We want to come together to make a difference; we’re not going to do that with a one-off program for a month or two.”
The multi-year healthy living initiative was a couple of years in the making. “We had been having conversations for some time, and like anything else, there have to be things that work on both sides of the table,” says King. “Not just obvious things like the appropriate brand alignment between the two corporate entities, but the timing with the business itself. We absolutely saw the vision from Day 1, but it took us some time going through the logistics and figuring out what the right products would look like. You’re just starting to see the beginning of a lot of exciting things to come.”
Dole and Disney have a history going back to the mid-1970s, when Dole became a sponsor of the Enchanted Tiki Room at the Anaheim, CA, Disneyland Park and introduced the Dole Whip soft serve frozen dessert. “Essentially, it was the first time our brands were tied together,” says Goldfield. Both brands have a halo of family goodness, he adds.
Disney sees multiple advantages to partnering with Dole. “From any company we’ve spoken to, Dole probably has the most dedication to health and wellness, just given David Murdock’s commitment to the Dole Nutrition Institute in North Carolina and its research on the benefits of a plant-based diet. That’s an added factor,” says King.
“With Dole, we’re in a new category. We haven’t been in bananas before, and while it’s not the primary reason for our partnership, household penetration of bananas is in the mid to high 90 percentile, so it’s obviously an opportunity to influence a lot of families and kids,” says King. “If you look at most of the produce business, there is not a lot of consumer goods-type product branding, and not a lot of companies have dollars to do active marketing. And while many companies may have an assortment of products, they are not consistently branded across that assortment.
“By working with Dole, we can partner with a branded food company in the produce space across a wide selection of products. The idea is to create impact, so when you walk into the retailer, you’ll see in-store theater. You won’t have to hunt for the one product on a shelf somewhere in the produce space; you’ll be able to see a physical presence in the space. For us, we have a lot of compelling characters and there is a high affinity for our brand and stories. We can use them as positive influences for families with kids to make healthy choices. Kids are impressionable, and these choices can become life-long habits.”
“By working with Dole, we can partner with a branded food company in the produce space across a wide selection of products…”
— John King, Walt Disney Company
Disney and Health
On the Disney side, the corporation’s wellness commitment started in 2006. “Technically, we’re in our eleventh year of the program,” says King. “There are three tenets to the licensing initiative: it’s about nutritious foods, physical activity and providing information to families to help them make better decisions — whether it’s how to eat healthy and the types of foods and recipes, or with physical activity. Being the resource to help families in the decision making you’ll see taking place across the entire organization in different ways.”
Disney instituted a Mickey Check system, which requires items to meet specific nutritional guidelines. Part of the approach is an 85/15 portfolio balance. “We realize we would be hypocritical to say kids shouldn’t have treats,” says King. “It’s about moderation. We allow 15 percent of our portfolio to be treats, which ironically have to meet Disney’s treat guidelines as well.”
As a company, Disney’s goal is to have its entire portfolio meet the 85/15 balance. “In North America, we have met that guideline since 2008, so within two years of doing the program, we were compliant,” says King. “Globally, our goal is compliance by 2020; we continue to make progress each year.”
Disney is so committed to this program, it publishes results in its annual report, tracking servings of dairy, fruits and vegetables. “In 2016, we had 388 million servings of fruits and vegetables in our licensing program, which involves deals with partners like Dole who use our brand and intellectual property on products,” says King, noting the number does not include its studio partners in Disney’s theme parks.
“That brings us to a new cumulative total of 4.7 billion servings of fruits and vegetables since 2006. We have a third-party come in and audit those numbers. It’s not just a passive, unquantified approach; it’s part of our DNA. It’s built into how we operate our daily business.”
When you look at Dole’s fresh portfolio, the company is seen as a great partner to be working with, says King. “Keep in mind, we’ll be reporting our results of servings of fruits and vegetables at the end of 2017, and Dole will have an influence on that number. It won’t be directly attributed to Dole, but Dole will have a significant impact on those results,” says King.
Getting Kids to Say ‘Yes’
Consumers can be inundated with all sorts of fun character promotions on all types of products in the grocery store — and in TV advertising — including many unhealthy choices. “We can talk all day long about how produce is healthy for you, but parents still have trouble getting their children to want to eat it,” says Goldfield. “As a parent of a young child myself, I know the power of characters — particularly, the power of Disney to get children to buy something they don’t even know they want or need. We know there are other food brands that have done it successfully; but produce has lagged behind, so we’re trying to fight the good fight by addressing the pangs of children yelling, ‘I want that,’ by putting those characters on the good stuff.”
In the first three weeks of its Beauty and the Beast campaign sweepstakes, Dole received a higher-than-expected consumer outpouring of almost 50,000 entrees. “As retailers get more and more exposed to the healthy initiative program, coupled by the cumulative consumer interest and media coverage, we expect to see growing lifts in sales,” says Goldfield.
Dole is encouraging retailers to merchandise the branded products in prominent displays with its point-of-sale materials, recipes, price cards, posters and banners. “This includes retail display contests that best encapsulate creativity in sales potential and everything else that fills that awareness toward the programming,” says Goldfield.
It can be challenging to alter eating behaviors. The produce industry struggles to increase consumption, and on how best to market fresh fruits and vegetables. Sometimes, promoting produce as “healthy” can create a backlash, as consumers can associate healthy with not tasting as good. Connecting Dole products to Disney’s compelling characters and stories is a move to counter that.
“We don’t market produce as healthy because everyone knows it’s healthy,” says King, adding, “Why invest your time in marketing something as good for you when you’ve already checked that box? The question is, how do we leverage our characters, which basically create familiarity with kids, to make them more open to try new things? Maybe they don’t eat salad, but they see the character on the package and it gets them to try it. The biggest battle is to get them to taste it, and then they like it, and now you’re in.”
There’s always that serendipity when a character or property connects with a product, such as an elephant with peanuts, or the Dole bananas campaign in the animated Curious George movie.
“For us, it’s about the initiative and the marketing message we want to support, and who is the core demographic and which characters can reinforce that message,” says King. Take the film Frozen, for example. There are not many things that grow in the snow, but those characters can just be role models and endorsers for kids to make good choices.”
The collaboration officially launched last fall with a successful campaign around Disney’s Moana. The Beauty and the Beast promotion, which kicked off in March 2016 and ended April 16, was the next program to promote the “There’s Beauty in Healthy Living” campaign. It featured Belle, Beast, Lumiere and other characters on collectible stickers placed on Dole bananas, pineapples and salads. The characters also served as inspiration for a host of healthy recipes, serving suggestions and nutrition tips. There was also a dual-branded interactive microsite, special signage, display contests and other activities in supermarkets across the country. However, once a campaign ends, the messaging is not dead and gone, according to King. “It’s on to the next rotation, and looking for the marketing thread of what characters can help re-emphasize that.”
This summer, “Fuel Up with Dole” celebrates Disney Pixar’s Cars 3 — in theaters June 16. The latest campaign kicked off on May 25 and will run through Sept. 4 in the United States and Canada. The program focuses on engaging families on their road trips and summer vacations with tools that create healthier meal and snacking options. The promotion incorporates NASCAR promotional events, and Cars 3 characters, including Lightning McQueen, Cruz Ramirez, Jackson Storm, Miss Fritter and Smokey, are featured on nearly 400 million Dole bananas, pineapples, salads and berries in Canadian and U.S. supermarkets. A dedicated microsite, digital interactions, blogger and social programs and contests complement the in-store program.
Lucasfilm’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi is next on the program agenda and is slated for later this year.
“As we develop this program and add in more and more products over the next three or four years, it’s going to expand until we virtually, hopefully, take over the produce department with inspiring signage and messaging,” says Goldfield. “Right now, we have Disney characters on bananas, pineapples and classic iceberg lettuce. As we delve deeper into this later this summer, we’ll start seeing the branding on our blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, celery, salad varieties, broccoli, cauliflower — everything’s going to keep building from there.”
According to King, the program is a licensing deal at its core, using Disney’s IP (International Property) and brand on Dole product and packaging. “We do represent other business units within the Walt Disney Company. For instance, we work with our studio team to complement the products we have in market. There are a lot of layers that come with that. Then we also work with our Disney digital network to help drive the marketing and PR and communications with our various Disney outlets to help get the message out to the consumer. So the deal will cover product and packaging, as well as the marketing, which is everything from the traditional media outlets to your digital and social outlets and then things like PR and communications, so it’s a well-rounded approach.
“Without giving details of the contract itself, I would say definitely expect this program to be in the market for the next several years,” says King. “We’re going to be leveraging all our different content providers. Film is one of many ways to deliver content. In addition, some might come through our media partners, where we have Disney Channel, Disney Junior and Disney XD, and some can be coming through the consumer products and interactive media side — we have a lot of content through apps and mobile games. There are no limits to what that will look like. That’s the universe and scope of what we can do, and we’ll pull whatever levers we need to, based on what makes sense. We’re obviously implementing things this year, but actively planning things for 2018 and beyond.”
Some programs, such as Sesame Street, may be geared to a younger age group, whereas Disney’s broad content reaches a wide audience — consumer demographics range across Disney, Marvel, Lucas and Pixar. “We literally target what we call the four quadrants: the young, old, men and women, so we’re hitting every age and demographic,” says King. “Our characters and stories cover the field. We have some that might appeal to a much more specific demographic and we can emphasize that segment in marketing as well.”
Some properties are narrow in age scope, making it difficult to branch out. Having broad appeal opens possibilities on what can be done. “At the same time, I would never want to disparage other properties that are encouraging healthy living; all are good in that regard,” says King. “We always support folks in the industry with our same goal to increase the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables for families and kids. We think we can be that one-stop-shop for our licensees, as well as potential licensees.”
“One of the things we like with this program is we’re partnered with the Disney Studio overall, but it also incorporates Lucas, Marvel and Pixar, so we really have the flexibility of being able to target different audiences with different properties,” says Goldfield. “We know we can start with Disney and the Mickey’s and Minnie’s and attract the very young, but also keep consumers engaged as they get older with the Pixar properties and then probably to the live action films like Pirates of the Caribbean, then eventually into Star Wars and then into Marvel. You’re not just talking about capturing 6-year-olds and then you lose these kids and families. You’re allowed to play in the sandbox and graduate to another studio.
“We considered this when we were in discussions with Disney and found this program gave us not only a uniqueness in the marketplace that no one else had access to here, but also allowed us to think about our strategy in a much broader sense and a much broader demographic as we plan these campaigns out,” continues Goldfield.
Disney has other partners, but may be do a single product for a short period of time. “We’re talking about exclusivity across these lines, with a program carried throughout the year in a much more elaborate type of campaign,” says Goldfield. “If you see a message once or twice, maybe you’ll pay attention, but then you’ll move on. As consumers are exposed to our program day-in-and-day-out, it’s going to become more appealing and in some ways more ubiquitous. But also, that messaging becomes ingrained because you’re going to be seeing it for years.”
Then there are the multiple social media components streamed through the various properties. “When you start adding up all these outlets, you’re talking about tens of millions of followers that you might be able to reach with the social posts,” says Goldfield. “We can work with Disney in getting things posted on some of their social channels and really get messaging out to a very wide swath of followers.