ow, more than ever, consumers want to know where their food comes from, and it’s our responsibility as a company to give consumers an authentic look into the story of how we raise our tomatoes, from seed to shelf,” Kathryn Ault, NatureSweet’s VP of Sales, finds time to tell me while the company is in the midst of bringing its newest campaign to light. “While ‘Tomatoes Raised Right’ is our new campaign, it’s all about our company’s time-tested philosophy of growing our tomatoes from start to finish. Raising something right doesn’t happen in a day, so we are vertically integrated; controlling everything from seed to shelf. Consumers can tell the difference, and they trust us to show them that difference with each tomato.”
With snacking, food transparency, and the tomato category in general pushing towards the forefront of sales and marketing in the produce industry, what a time for the company to be taking on a massive new campaign on NatureSweet’s hand-picked, greenhouse-grown snacking tomatoes. Kathryn Ault, however, seems unfazed as she goes head-to-head with the challenge of steering the new initiative all the way into consumers’ baskets. But this fearlessness, the 33-year veteran of food industry marketing and sales says, comes from a little competitive advantage out of the NatureSweet business itself.
“Our associates nurture and hand-pick our tomatoes at the peak of freshness and with care. They are our biggest competitive advantage, and are the inspiration behind the new campaign,” Kathryn explains to me. “Because everything is supervised by NatureSweet associates each step of the way, it makes my job of promising excellent quality to consumers that much easier. Having that much trust in every member of our staff translates into developing a brand that holds gravity and that consumers can count on for excellent taste.”
While it’s clear that the care the NatureSweet team puts into their tomatoes makes all the difference, it’s safe to say Kathryn may know a little something about successfully marketing a product, too. After an education at a university in Liverpool in the United Kingdom, Kathryn found herself working as a marketer at multinational consumer packaged goods company Pillsbury. There, she was tasked with, among other things, helping launch several brands in the U.K. while bouncing back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean.
“My degree is actually in Geography, but out of university I began in the marketing department of a dairy company that would end up buying the Pillsbury brand in 1990. I was sent to work in Minneapolis for two years, where I met my husband, and brought him with me as I went to work on brands like Häagen-Dazs, Old El Paso, and Green Giant back in the U.K. As a family, we moved to my husband’s home of San Antonio, Texas, and after a two year sabbatical, decided that we wanted to raise our children in the U.S. Without my wonderful husband and my children, I would have never found my place at NatureSweet.”
As fate would have it, NatureSweet was looking for someone with experience in consumer packaged goods and branded marketing. Prior to Kathryn joining the company, NatureSweet did not have a designated marketing department, so as Marketing Manager, she was tasked with building off of what now President and CEO, Bryant Ambelang, created as VP of Sales and Marketing. After spending ten years in marketing, Bryant walked into her office to tell her she would be the new VP of Sales, which prompted what I think is a more than apt reply, “Goodness!” Bryant, luckily, has more than a bit of a knack for making these kind of insights.
“I have worked for Bryant Ambelang for twelve years, and the entire time he’s been an incredible mentor in my life. He’s a transformational leader and a great support to me, but beyond that, he really has the vision of being a groundbreaking leader in the fresh tomato industry. He’s brilliant in many different functions, but if he’s in a room with a crowd of people, he lights it up with his inspiration,” reflects Kathryn when I ask her about the great influences in her career.
When Kathryn speaks about working with the NatureSweet staff, from Bryant at the top, to the people who hand-pick each tomato, it’s clear she has a deep appreciation for the task at hand. It’s that top to bottom knowledge that makes Kathryn so excellent at leading the company’s sales division, but it’s also what makes the product that much more desirable to consumers.
“I’ve worked in large divisions of large companies. For me, it’s much more satisfying to work on growing a smaller company like NatureSweet from the ground up. Here at NatureSweet, I’m constantly able to take our customers directly to our facilities and show them the value of what our associates do. All are full-time and year-round associates, so they’re very vested in what NatureSweet does as a company. When retailers see our product, that really shows,” she says.
With 8,000 associates working on NatureSweet products every day, the love infused in each product is apparent. That love, Kathryn says, is what sets NatureSweet apart in a time where it’s harder than ever to get imperfections past the consumer eye.
“Consumers are becoming savvier about the different tastes and flavors of tomatoes, so we want to communicate how we grow our tomatoes with care and without compromise, hand-picking the tomatoes off the vine at the peak of sweetness to provide the freshest, tastiest product all year long,” Kathryn continues.
“Highlighting our quality greenhouse-growing standards from seed to store, year-long freshness and variety of offerings are all part of our being a pioneer in the produce industry.”
Having kicked off the Tomatoes Raised Right campaign this past August, Kathryn says NatureSweet will continue to monitor progress through the end of the year for insights on how to optimize a launch on a mass scale. The initiative is multifaceted, and includes everything from an updated website, television spots, and out-of-home and digital advertisements. On top of these media outlets, NatureSweet will roll out all new packaging, promotional shippers, and POS materials for retailers to let the message really shine through.
“Our POS at retail is what really grounds our messaging directly to consumers. The more you can reassure the customers that the product is coming from a safe place from the right people, the better your ring at the register,” Kathryn tells me. “We provide a variety of different racks and secondary displays for retailers to aid in merchandising efforts that can help increase sales by nearly 30 percent. We’ve partnered with retailers on many different consumer promotions for years, and are known for our fun lineup of in-store promotions. We will continue to do so with Tomatoes Raised Right because we know it helps maximize sales.”
If Tomatoes Raised Right is anything like NatureSweet’s previous groundbreaking introductions into the produce industry, I think Kathryn and the team will have more than enough to keep them busy over the next few months and into 2017. Still, I ask her, what’s next for the always innovative company? While she doesn’t reveal specifics, you can hear in her voice that she’s excited about what’s to come.
“Everything NatureSweet does is breaking the mold. When we first launched our cherry tomatoes we transformed an entire category in the fresh tomato industry. Cherubs, our biggest item, did the exact same thing in their market,” Kathryn explains. “NatureSweet is going to continue to be innovative and disrupt the industry. We want those big ideas and we don’t just throw anything out there. We diligently look at consumer insights and consumer research to help us create products we know will be successful. This is how we create winners in the retail market.”
And as NatureSweet continues its mold-breaking campaign across the fresh tomato industry, we can expect many more winners to come.