Del Monte, Sunkist Add Heat To Refrigerated Fruit Segment

Competition in the refrigerated fruit section is heating up.

While category leader Del Monte Foods has pledged $20 million in marketing behind the segment, Sunkist and Sundia are fighting back with new products and ads.

Del Monte Foods is positioning its prepackaged, refrigerated fruit as being as good (or at least as good for you) as fresh fruit. Next month, it will launch a “Splash” campaign in support of its new line of prepackaged SuperFruit. Antioxidant-rich offerings like acai and mango, available in 8-oz. fruit cups, are hitting stores now.

The effort follows its “Fruit Undressed” campaign that launched last month on behalf of Fruit Naturals, SunFresh, Orchard Selects and new citrus bowls. Ads play up the product’s nutritional benefits. Smith Brothers Agency, Pittsburgh, Pa., handles.

Del Monte currently owns 91.8 percent of the growing $150 million refrigerated fruit category, per Nielsen Scan-track. The category was up 13 percent for the 52 weeks ended Nov. 22.

Rival Sunkist, which currently owns less than 1 percent of the category’s dollar share, is set to roll out new advertising for its Premium Sweet line of refrigerated fruits. Old World Enterprise Group, the Sunkist licensee which came up with the product, will begin airing 30-second TV spots in markets that have achieved 50 percent distribution or more next month. Set to the tune of Scottish singer-songwriter Donovan’s “Sunshine Superman,” the ads show a series of dancers eating the fruit, which is “chilled to freshness, with no syrupy taste.” Noble Communications, Chicago, handles.

Smaller competitor Sundia, meanwhile, is gearing up for the January debut of its True Fruit Lite line. The collection includes fruits like Perfect Peach, Ruby Grapefruit and is the company’s first line to be made with Splenda. (Del Monte’s Fruit Naturals also contains the sugar substitute.) Marketing consists of trade and online advertising and couponing. At $1.79 for a 10.75-oz. cup, the company is going after the value-minded, health-conscious mom, said Sundia rep Myrna Nickelsen.

Competition has helped create more energy around the refrigerated fruit segment, said Old World Enterprise Group president Dick Sanderson. “Where there is choice, there is stimulation.”

 There is room for more brands in the category beyond the dominant Del Monte, said Jim Prevor, editor of Perishable Pundit, which tracks the produce industry. The question is whether competitors can successfully introduce meaningful, new innovations. Otherwise, retailers have no incentive to play one up against the other, he said.

Sunkist has been experimenting with the addition of calcium in its products, Sanderson said. Future extensions might include items like fruit desserts and lunches.

Sundia, meanwhile, has converted nearly 50 percent of its packaging to contain a spoon for ready-to-eat convenience. “The whole idea is to make it really convenient . . . you can’t pick it out with your finger,” Nickelsen said.

Del Monte welcomes the challenge. Rodolfo Spielmann, vp of consumer growth at Del Monte Foods, said, “This is a big category and we do not expect to be playing alone here for the long run.”