Officials at the Produce for Better Health Foundation are gearing up for what they believe will be a record-breaking National 5 a Day week, due in large part to its newest ad campaign featuring "Produce Man."
Developed by a Los Angeles ad agency, the campaign has drawn more than $3 million worth of television time since its inception almost seven months ago. Produce Man is an animated character whose body consists of various fruits and vegetables, including bananas for ribs, melon-like shoulders and a pear-shaped nose.
For the past five years PBH, the National Cancer Institute and a host of produce suppliers and retailers have sponsored National 5 a Day Week, in an effort to heighten health awareness as well as increase consumption of fruits and vegetables.
Retailers have gotten behind this year's event -- scheduled from Sept. 8 to 14 -- in a big way. "We've never had this kind of support," said PBH President Mike Gretz. "It's been growing steadily."
"We've got a lot of things in the planning," said Vince Terry, director of produce at Harps Food Stores, Springdale, Ark. Harps has participated in the campaign since it began in Miami.
One of the most unusual promotions Harps will be running is a year-long series of 156 advertisements during the Saturday morning children's cartoon "The Bart Rocket Show."
The commercials feature dieticians, cheerleaders and produce managers from local stores sending a central message geared to "kids 14 and under." Each week for a year, three ads will be shown during commercial breaks.
"They all have a central theme of respect for your body and doing what's good for you," Terry added.
Harps has run several promotions in previous years, including giving away more than 5,000 fruits and vegetables in a five-week span, and giving apples to students and teachers in five school districts.
"I'm hoping we're going to be doing a little of the old and a little of the new," Terry said of this year's promotion.
The push for produce seems to be working, at least according to a national survey, paid for by PBH, which shows consumer awareness rocketing from 8% in 1991 to 38% early this year.
PBH is planning to rerelease the Produce Man ads for 5-a-Day week, and the newer ads will have taglines at the end encouraging consumers to increase their produce consumption in September.
Produce Man aside, the Foundation is being supported in other arenas as well. Four television Public Service Announcements geared toward children, developed by the California Health Department and used in that state during the past two years, have been called into service for a wider audience.
These spots, which are separate from Produce Man, include rap music, cartoons and special appearances by children's television icons the American Gladiators, the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, and the cast of "Full House".
Released in the beginning of August, he said the PSAs have generated about an additional $220,000 worth of airtime, and have been seen by approximately 33.6 million viewers.
They will be seen on roughly 800 television stations nationally, and the new television PSAs could generate an additional $10 million dollars in exposure, Gretz said.
At this point, PBH has gained backing from about 335 licensed retailers, which encompass roughly 30,000 stores nationwide. The Kroger Co., A&P, Vons Cos. and Harps are just some of the major retailers that have pledged their allegiance to the cause, Gretz said.
Clark Wood and Tim Hollows of Associated Food Stores, Salt Lake City, have been working with Utah's 5 a Day coalition for the past three years. This year, they will be "wrapping" a Utah Transit Authority bus with painted representations of fresh produce, and the UTA will get a special visitor for 5 a Day Week.
"We're going to take [Utah Governor Mike Leavitt] to an elementary school," Wood said. After a ride on the bus, the governor and students will hand out fresh fruit. The bus will be "wrapped" for a year, changing routes every three months.
To further encourage increased sales, PBH offers several in-store promotional devices (sans Produce Man), including 5 a Day apparel, posters, buttons and signs featuring graphics of human-like fruit, and slogans encouraging greater consumption.