SCHENECTADY, N.Y. -- Price Chopper's Produce Monster is celebrating its first birthday this month, and the retailer is excited about the mascot's future. The character, the third element in the retailer's fresh-foods consumer education program, is the most public-oriented and publicity-hungry.
"We plan to build on it," said Joanne Gage, spokesperson for the chain. "We're doing a Produce Monster coloring book, and down the road we may do a 'Name the Produce Monster' contest."
A costumed character already makes personal appearances at store openings and in school classrooms. And he even has a voice, according to Gage. "He sounds like Sean Connery, so he comes across as very sophisticated and intelligent, someone who knows what they're talking about," she said.
But the character's main venue is regular appearances in Price Chopper ads and weekly circulars, where he helps educate consumers of all ages.
"Whatever the feature is [in the weekly ads], we try to place the Produce Monster in it, giving advice on that particular fruit or vegetable," Gage said. "He might talk about bananas as a good source of potassium, that kind of thing."
In-store, his image -- as well as his reputation for good taste -- are reinforced through the use of small, PLU-style stickers applied to individual produce.
The use of slogans and characters at Price Chopper can be traced back three years to the chain's meat department. In 1997, the retailer introduced "We Know Meat" as the department's catch phrase. This was followed the next year by "Be Seafood Smart" in the seafood department (run separately from meat and poultry). But here, Price Chopper added an actual character, according to Gage.
"The thing that was different about 'Be Seafood Smart' is that we developed a spokesfish, a little character that's a really smart fish," she said. "He wears a mortarboard on his head and is always spouting off information about seafood. We even did animation for him."
In meat and seafood, the retailer conducts classes that have grown to be very popular [see "How to Hook a Sale," SN, March 15, 1999]. The seminars, designed to "take the guesswork" out of buying those proteins, seek to give consumers more confidence in purchasing particular cuts of meat or species of seafood, said Gage.
"Meat and seafood has more science behind it, and is more perplexing for most consumers -- which cuts are best for grilling, that sort of thing," she noted.
In developing the outline for the produce department's consumer-education strategy, Price Chopper's advertising team decided to pursue a different tack because people feel much more comfortable with produce than with meat and seafood.
"It's less complicated," said Gage. "Yet we still wanted to get the point across that it's good for you, and there are still things to learn, like telling them how to eat a papaya. It basically comes down to encouraging shoppers to try different things and telling them how the item is good for them."
In this case, the retailer was able to take a little lighter approach in developing the character and his pitch. Price Chopper officials wanted a program that would be helpful without being too heavy, a forum "to stress health benefits, the seasonality of produce and how to determine ripeness," Gage added.
At the same time, the retailer was eager to develop a character that appealed to children, because "we really felt that is one of the things that parents really struggle with -- getting their children to eat more vegetables and fruits," Gage said.
Originally there were several different produce-department mascots drawn up, and each was the subject of focus groups involving children. In the end, the Produce Monster beat out his competitors. When he was officially introduced to shoppers, the retailer even called itself a "Produce Monster," noting its stores featured oversized departments full of freshness and variety, according to Gage.