‘A Lot Has Changed’ Third-Party Firm Evaluates Almond Board’s Marketing Efforts in Post-Pandemic World

Almond Board of California hopes to leverage what is now its largest celebrity partnership in Deion “Prime Time” Sanders, former pro football and baseball star and current NCAA football coach (photo courtesy Almond Board of California.)

The COVID-19 pandemic caused upheaval on several fronts, including retail markets, consumer preferences and consumer shopping patterns, and many will never return to pre-pandemic days. To get a better handle on today’s marketplace and consumers, the Almond Board of California commissioned a third-party consulting firm to evaluate its current programs and provide information it can use to strategically position almonds during the next 10 to 15 years.

“We tasked staff to develop what ultimately became the ‘Thea Project,’” said board chair Alexi Rodriguez, who also is director of operations for Campos Brothers Farms in Caruthers, Calif. Results are pending. The last time the board conducted a similar review was 2011, “and the landscape has changed quite drastically since then,” she said.

During a rare virtual press conference held recently, Rodriguez and Richard Waycott, ABC president and CEO, discussed the status of the Thea Project as well as announced three new marketing programs.

They are “Own Your Prime,” a national campaign featuring former pro football and baseball star “Prime Time” Deion Sanders; an effort to educate German consumers about the benefits of almonds as a healthy snack; and promotions in India highlighting almond’s energy value as the country hosts the ICC Cricket World Cup this fall.

Rick Kushman, ABC media relations for global communications, said the board wanted to hold a press conference because it had never had a partnership with anyone as large a stature as Sanders.

Almond Board of California Board Chair Alexi Rodriguez said a goal of the board’s Thea Project is to provide a fresh viewpoint on allocation of market development funds and resources.

“Plus, Coach Prime is in the news a lot now with his move to Colorado and Colorado’s move from the Pac-12 to the Big 12,” Kushman wrote in an email. “We thought all of that would be interesting to lots of media and to our industry, and news coverage will help the marketing campaign, which might drive more news coverage somewhere, which will help the marketing even more.”

In addition, the new board of directors was recently seated, and members wanted to reiterate their top priority was building demand globally.

“We thought it would be good for the industry to hear what their board is doing,” Kushman said. “Given this complicated time for almonds and ag right now, we thought it was important that our industry know about all these programs.”

Developing a ‘Fresh Viewpoint’
A steering committee of 12 diverse representatives from the almond industry is guiding the Thea Project to ensure it is comprehensive, Rodriguez said. The goal is to “provide a fresh viewpoint to how we ultimately allocate ABC market development funds and resources given today’s current landscaping,” she said.

“Building demand has always been a long-time priority, but we recognize a lot has changed rather quickly. And to be effective, we have to adapt to those changes.”

The findings are expected soon. After Almond Board personnel digest the results, they will begin to evaluate and reposition their marketing approaches as needed.

ABC allocates about 64% of its budget toward global market development, according to the 2022 Almond Almanac, the last year for which figures are available.

Two of the Almond Board of California’s three newest campaigns are aimed at export markets in Germany and India. Over 70% of almonds produced in California are exported.

Going Prime Time
In what is its largest celebrity partnership ever, the Almond Board enlisted Sanders to promote almond’s role in exercise and muscle recovery. The campaign is based on a recent ABC-funded study that found people who exercised less than three times a week but snacked on almonds could increase leg and lower back strength, enhance recovery post-exercise, and reduce fatigue and tension. It was conducted by David C. Nieman, director of Appalachian State University’s Human Performance Laboratory.

Dubbed “Own Your Prime,” the board’s marketing program plays off Sanders’ nickname of “Prime Time” earned in high school, college and professional football. More recently, he’s been called Coach Prime as head football coach at Jackson State University and now the University of Colorado Buffaloes.

Sanders was hired in December 2022 to resuscitate the CU football program, which went 1-11 during the 2022 football season.

The Own Your Prime campaign will include TV advertisements during NCAA football games throughout the season, Waycott said. The multi-media effort culminates with Super Bowl’s Radio Row, a week of sports talk radio shows in town to cover the big game.

Waycott said the Prime program expands the board’s demographic focus to include both male and female consumers. In the past, most of their marketing targeted females. It also is the latest ABC effort to shift promotional efforts to unconventional outlets, including NCAA March Madness, Marvel Studios and the gaming platform Twitch.

Waycott said he couldn’t discuss the cost of the Prime campaign, citing confidentiality agreements with the star.

“It’s not a cheap campaign,” he said. “But in this day and age, to make a big impression, you have to understand the promotional strategy, and you have to put the money behind it to make it happen. We felt it’s a very good use of growers’ funds.”

Marketing Efforts Overseas
In Germany, the board recently launched the Mother of All Snacks advertising campaign, Waycott said. Although that country is the fourth-largest export market for California almonds, most of the nuts go into ingredients, such as marzipan.

The marketing program is designed to educate German consumers about the benefits of eating almonds as a healthy snack food. The board tested three campaigns, and the one titled Mother Nature came through with the highest score. It will run on TV as well as social media outlets.

In addition, he said the Almond Board is taking advantage of India hosting the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup this fall to promote almond’s energy values to a world stage. Ten-second advertisements will play during game broadcasts, and billboards and bus shelters in the large cities of New Delhi and Mumbai will carry similar messages.

The sporting event coincides with Diwalli, a Hindu festival that’s India’s largest and most important holiday of the year. As part of festivities, people give gifts, and Waycott said they hope almonds are part of those.

California almond shipments to India, the largest export market, have grown by 250 million pounds during the past six years and are now about 400 million pounds annually, he said.