The company has been around for nearly a century now, but it boomed in the 1990s, with a breakthrough product. A local grower named Mike Yurosek had become frustrated with all the waste in the carrot business. Supermarkets expected carrots to be a particular size, shape, and color. Anything else had to be sold for juice or processing or animal feed, or just thrown away. Yurosek wondered what would happen if he peeled the skin off the gnarly carrots, cut them into pieces, and sold them in bags. He made up a few test batches to show his buyers. One batch, cut into 1-inch bites and peeled round, he called "bunny balls." Another batch, peeled and cut 2 inches long, looked like little baby carrots.
Bunny balls never made it. But baby carrots were a hit. They transformed the whole industry. Soon, the big growers in Bakersfield were planting fields with baby carrots in mind, sowing three times more seeds per acre, so the carrots, packed densely together, would grow long and skinny, for the maximum number of 2-inch cuts. Yields and profits climbed. The really big deal, the thing nobody expected, was that baby carrots seemed to make Americans eat more carrots. In the decade after they were introduced, carrot consumption in the United States doubled.
Then a couple of years ago, after a decade of steady growth, Bolthouse's carrot sales went flat. Sales of baby carrots, the company's cash carrot, actually fell, sharply, and stayed down. Nobody knew why. This was a big problem.
Dunn put together a series of focus groups and surveys and discovered something interesting. People said they were eating as many carrots as they always had. But the numbers clearly showed they were buying fewer. What people meant, it turned out, was they were as likely as ever to keep carrots in the fridge. When the recession hit, though, they became more likely to buy regular carrots, instead of baby carrots, to save money. But people used to eating baby carrots weren't taking the time to wash and cut the regular ones. And unlike baby carrots, which dry out pretty quickly once a bag is opened, regular carrots keep a long time. So people were buying regular carrots and then not eating them, and not buying more until the carrots they had were finally gone or spoiled.
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
The shifting fortunes of carrots
From Fast Company's article about the efforts to market carrots like junk food: