"There are certain things that shape you,” Valda Coryat, Director of Marketing for the National Mango Board (NMB) tells me within the first minute of our conversation. “Your first word, your first steps, the culture, the cadence, the sounds, the smells—a lot of times, that’s what you remember and what molds you into the person you become.”
As I get to know Valda over the course of our conversation, these words ring more and more true with each passing question I ask. For Valda, each droplet of her experience, from her Caribbean roots to her impressive New York City resume, has coalesced into a unique blend of passion and purpose that she pours into mango marketing. As she embarks on just her second year in produce as the lead marketer for the NMB, Valda is putting her classic Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) training to the test, and using the emotional connections she remembers as an islander to tap into a consumer base that is ripe for the picking, so to speak.
“I have extremely fond memories of my formative years on a little island in the Caribbean. I’ve loved mangos since I can first remember eating food. So, to me, this is more than just a job. This is truly a passion project,” Valda explains without even having to prompt her. “I can’t believe that so many people are unfamiliar with mangos and, to some extent, are curious, but intimidated. I want to share with them that mangos are so unique and bring sunshine to every dish. It’s not just the color, but there’s something when you bite into it; that flavor profile is a unique burst and gives consumers a taste of what it feels like to be on their own tropical vacation 12 months out of the year.”
“I can’t believe that so many people are unfamiliar with mangos and, to some extent, are curious, but intimidated."
- Valda Coryat, Director of Marketing, National Mango Board
The love that Valda has for this job is palpable in each new thought she presents me with, and that becomes even more apparent as we excavate the path that brought her here—one of discipline and rigor that is a bit surprising to learn about given her warm and thoughtful demeanor. From Columbia Business School, straight to high-profile marketing positions at companies like Colgate-Palmolive, Avon, and Heineken, Valda amassed a wealth of experience that would more than put her up to the challenge of taking something like a mango—brandless and enigmatic to millions of consumers—and making it a household product on par with the avocado.
“It’s one thing to come onto a brand like Palmolive or Colgate—someplace that people around the world can easily identify through the colors that signify that brand and maybe even tell you the number one SKU or replay a jingle from years past. Those are brands that have already discerned those elements and benefits that they stand for. It’s a very different marketing challenge than a commodity,” Valda says. “So, I thought, how am I going to do this? I believe the discipline that I learned in segmentation and market positioning, as well as the experience that I’ve had working on brands that have both functional and emotional benefits, can absolutely be applied to a commodity.”
But, despite this new approach to mango marketing from a place of emotional resonance, Valda is not throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater.
“I find myself around people with many more years of experience in this category and this industry, and I find them very open and welcoming to different thoughts and ideas. I think it’s just good to have a ‘me’ somewhere in the mix. It is a different angle and a different way to look at things that really enriches the conversation around mangos and around produce,” Valda says. “Of course, I’m not throwing out everything that has worked for mangos for the last 10 to 12 years. We keep what works, and then we try to figure out how to do some of that better. I’m asking the question, how do we bring in things that are new and different, that will accelerate the growth trajectory we have already built?”
My next question comes as no surprise: how do we accelerate that trajectory for mangos? This is when the excitement in Valda’s voice really starts picking up. This is where she excels, marrying the left brain and the right and using her CPG background to flesh out the passion imbued in her under the Caribbean sunshine.
“For 2018, with our new agency Weber Shandwick, we’re positioning mango as the Super Fun Superfruit—really looking to play on those emotional benefits, and we have both the quantitative as well as the qualitative research to back it up. Why do you pay a premium for things?” she asks. “There’s usually something about it that inspires you or connects to the image you want to project. We saw an opportunity to connect and inspire consumers through the lens of fun and joy, leading to that end benefit of happiness. We’re leaning into that, as well as the superfruit aspect where we’re talking about the functional benefits, the nutrition, and even what we think of as the basic actions of how you eat and use the fruit.”
"We saw an opportunity to connect and inspire consumers through the lens of fun and joy, leading to that end benefit of happiness."
- Valda Coryat
Valda tells me that the NMB has just completed an exhaustive, five-pillar, three-year strategic plan that will cover the 2018 to 2020 time period. Three of those heavily depend on marketing efforts, and, in other words, on Valda and her team. And though the board has mapped out its marketing tour de force over the course of three years, big waves will already be approaching the shore for the remainder of 2018 and 2019. A push toward video, including a farm-to-table story, which takes you through a mango farm in Puerto Rico, new creative formats for digital, not to mention a forthcoming mango emoji, will all be part of the effort to connect consumers with the joy and happiness it means to be part of the mango culture.
“Really knowing our consumer inside and out: that’s how we’re able to define those copy points and visuals that we know will lead them to purchase more and more mangos. We’re looking to increase consumption in not only those who are new to mangos, but those who have been with us a long time by giving them ways to utilize mangos that they haven’t thought of before, and really living the truth that mangos are available 12 months a year,” Valda explains. “There’s so much to work with in mangos; a fusion of the culture, the taste, and the health benefits—it’s the start of the journey to solidify the mango brand, and I think, come 2019 as we further draw insight from our research, you’ll really start seeing and hearing more of that.”
But for Valda, it really all comes back to the people who make it all possible—not just the consumers who will be buying the products, but the communities that make a 12-month mango season a reality.
“My inspiration, and it’s going to sound really cliché, really comes from the people, first and foremost,” she says. “I call myself an island girl even though I no longer have an accent and all of that, but when you leave a little place where everybody knows each other and all generations of family members, then you come into this huge market in the U.S., you really realize how pioneering a lot of the people in the agriculture space have been. I remember the story of David Fairchild, the person given credit for bringing mangos to the U.S., and I see him as a pioneer. You may really have no idea where this thing was going, but you have a really strong belief in it, and you figure it out as you go along. When I look at the growers, I’m inspired by the fact that if I do my job right, and I grow this market, it’s going to help some communities that really need it. At the end of the day, that’s really what my job is about, other than making everybody’s bellies really full and feeling good, of course.”
When I look at the growers, I’m inspired by the fact that if I do my job right, and I grow this market, it’s going to help some communities that really need it.
- Valda Coryat
Your heart can’t help but swell when Valda hits this point. It’s clear that her island girl mentality never left through her years of marketing discipline and rigor. Instead, those years have only further armed her with the skills she needs to bring her achievements back to her not-so-far-removed home. As she says, at the end of the day, this is what she was meant to do.
“When I saw that the National Mango Board was recruiting a Director of Marketing, I giggled, honestly,” Valda recalls. “I didn’t know that there was a National Mango Board—to this day I still smile, and when I tell people they giggle, too. It sounds incredible, right? People always tell me I’m so perfectly suited for this role. They say, ‘When I hear mangos, I see you—the mango lady.’"
In hindsight, fate brought them together.