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Pete's Living Greens: A Living Legacy

Carrying on a legacy is hard work, but Corrie Hutchens means business.

The new Senior Director of Marketing for Pete’s Living Greens, formerly Hollandia Produce, is deliberate in everything that she does, and while the hydroponic greenhouse lettuce grower has big things lined up for 2017, Corrie is ready to rumble. With more than a decade of CPG marketing for household brands such as Nestlé, Ergobaby, and Little Tikes under her belt, she’s stepping up to the plate in the world of produce and swinging for the fences.

She is not alone. The company’s new CEO, John Cochran, whose claims to fame are the turnaround of Pabst Brewery and making the FIJI water brand universal, has combined forces with the team in the quest to redefine the leafy green category. His experience in leading companies through high growth periods makes him a force to be reckoned with as he takes the reins from Pete Overgaag, who recently stepped aside as CEO to focus on R&D as the Executive Vice President of Strategy and Innovation.

Alongside Brian Cook, Vice President of Sales, this is the dream team: Pete the innovator, John the strategist, Corrie the brand engine, and Brian the trailblazer. Together, they are launching the deeply-rooted company into a new era, under the new name of Pete’s Living Greens, complete with a groundbreaking new patent-pending product line, one of Pete’s first wins in his new role.

Pete Overgaag, Executive VP of Strategy and Innovation, holds a bunch of Pete's Living Greens Butter Lettuce

Pete’s still very involved in the leadership of the company; he and John work closely together, literally sharing an office at the Carpinteria headquarters. However, he tells me that this new role at the helm of R&D encompasses all of his favorite elements of business. The “leave no stone unturned” mentality this dedicated, soft-spoken leader is known to espouse allows him to pour his passion into the innovation upon which the company has built its reputation—a reputation which Corrie is thrilled to amplify.

“Living greens offer another way for consumers to think about the foods they already eat in a way that may be more meaningful, providing a better value and eating experience,” Corrie tells me. “I’m excited to be joining this family, and it was vital for Pete’s Living Greens to find a perfect fit to take the marketing of these products to the next level. There is an amazing story to tell, and I’m here to help tell it.”

"Branding, specifically in packaging, is your first communication with consumers. The importance of understanding not just today's consumer but tomorrow's as well, is imperative to being successful."

 

-John Cochran

When Corrie talks about joining the family, she means it genuinely. Farming is a tradition that has been passed down from Pete’s grandfathers, and the company was founded in 1970 by Pete’s parents, Art and Magda Overgaag, on three acres of greenhouses in Carpinteria, California. Under the leadership of their son, the company has laid down its roots in freshness, expanded to include two locations, and at more than 30 acres; Pete’s Living Greens is now one of the largest greenhouse growers of hydroponic lettuce in the Western United States.

As the company grew, the culture grew along with it. Corrie tells me that the core values include excellence, safety, efficiency, growth, positivity, and respect. Small wins are celebrated, and achievements are rewarded as a group. The employees truly care about what they do, and there is a sense of pride in the products they offer.

“Pete and the team have done an amazing job growing the hydroponic lettuce market to what it is today,” John adds. “We’re excited to take this company in new directions, and look forward to partnering with our customers to lead the category for living greens.”

Best known for its line of Living Butter Lettuce, the company has helped pave the way for living greens. Breaking onto the scene via heads of lettuce with roots still intact, the innovative product is packed in the award-winning 100 percent recyclable signature clear clamshell which serves as a mini-greenhouse to reduce damage, shrinkage, and contaminants. When the product first hit the market, living greens offered retailers a solution to extend product shelf-life, and provided consumers the means to enjoy farm-fresh flavor from the store.

(1) Brian Cook, VP of Sales, checks out the new line of Living Strips (2) The New Living Strips line (3) Living Strips Home Harvest Pack™ featuring an innovative Root Compartment (4) Before Pete's Living Greens live in the supermarket, they are grown and nurtured in its state-of-the-art greenhouses.

With its past success, the company has been preparing for the shift in marketing strategy as it enters this next period of rapid growth. One of its initial steps was becoming employee-owned in 2016. Reflective of the family values, the move gave employees a stake in the success of Pete’s Living Greens, increasing engagement, and ultimately, stock prices.

Today, the company’s portfolio includes a range of varieties touting a several week shelf-life from pack. The Living Classics and Living Organics lines have helped make space on supermarket shelves for the living category—giving consumers an experience that is truly “Rooted in Freshness, Alive With Flavor” as the tagline communicates.

“The team has already done a great job of laying the foundation for the living greens category, building a solid platform to launch from as we continue growing while driving category and brand awareness,” Corrie shares. “In this next phase, we’re going to focus on building relationships with the consumers who go to the store and buy our products.”

Corrie’s first marketing task was leading the company through a rebranding—presenting a cohesive line of living greens to the industry under the Pete’s Living Greens label. Where consumers might not have correlated all of the company’s previously separate brands, this strategic move has seamlessly brought together the high-quality and consistency consumers know and love under the same brand. Corrie tells me that consumers can’t get enough of the fresh, new look of the packaging.

Pete Overgaag, Executive VP of Strategy and Innovation & John Cochran, CEO

“The rebrand was inspired by our mission to become the first nationally recognized brand of living greens by consumers, signifying growth and transformation,” Corrie continues.

“As such, every Pete’s Living Greens package received a cosmetic makeover featuring newly-designed labels and a refreshed logo, along with other branded consumer elements. The modern, natural look draws attention to the freshness, quality, and longevity of each rooted green, allowing consumers to easily recognize the brand and know what Pete’s Living Green’s products stand for.”

Every product from Pete’s Living Greens is grown in state-of-the-art greenhouses where light, temperature, humidity, and nutrients are controlled, resulting in increased crop yields and year-round availability. The hydroponically grown greens use up to 85 percent less water and 70 percent less land than traditional growers. An important element in the brand relaunch is a renewed focus on consumer-centric innovation, and with the trend towards conscious consumerism, the brand offers a perfect fit in the retail landscape.

“It has been a long and arduous, but very rewarding, process. You cannot take walking away from a longstanding successful brand lightly,” John notes. “Branding, specifically in packaging, is your first communication with consumers. The importance of understanding not just today’s consumer but tomorrow’s as well, is imperative to being successful.”

Nodding to her experience in product marketing, brand management, and consumer communication from companies inside and outside the realm of the food industry, this is the perfect task for Corrie, who is known for her ability to develop strategies that have accelerated growth for the impressive brands she’s worked with. Pete’s Living Greens is ahead of the curve in its innovation of the evolving living lettuce category, and the new brand identity illustrates how far the company has come in its nearly 50-year history, with an eye always looking to the horizon.

"Pete's Living Greens will also begin investing in and building brand recognition, affinity, and engagement through consumer-focused programs within a category that hasn't historically seen this level of consumer-focused marketing."

 

-Corrie Hutchens

 “We reviewed a lot of research surrounding ‘tomorrow’s consumer’ and learned a lot about their values and how they drive purchasing decisions,” Corrie says. “This led the company to take a hard look at our values. It was evident that, while we’ve always had a purpose, we could do a better job at conveying that messaging to consumers.”

Corrie plans to establish Pete’s Living Greens as the first nationally recognized brand of living greens by the consumer—with the ultimate goal of stimulating demand and driving revenue growth across the entire product range. And, the new label with clarified messaging is going for a spin on the latest product from the company: the new Living Strips line.

The company is blazing the path to market with the groundbreaking Living Strips, offering the revolutionary Home Harvest PackTM in a premium, patent-pending container for housing living salad strips, ensuring freshness, quality and taste with an impressive shelf-life. Its key feature is an innovative root compartment that keeps roots contained and countertops clean while consumers harvest their salad at home.

The product has already made waves. At the time of this writing, the new line has been identified as a finalist for Best New Packaging in the 2017 United Fresh Innovation Awards. The revolutionary packaging was developed to specifically address consumer needs and concerns, while delivering the fresh picked flavor they love. The team is clearly eager to share this product with the industry.

“We are really excited about our new Living Strips, and the reaction from retailers has been overwhelmingly positive. There really is nothing like it in the market today, and it serves as a fresh alternative to bagged salad,” Pete says. “This started with the idea to combine the best flavors and our long time roots on advantage with a user-friendly packaging concept. The main motivation was to fill the need in the marketplace to reduce food waste both in-store and at home; the secondary benefit to our company is keeping our position as the leader in the living greens category.”

The New Living Strips Line Living Strips are available in Baby Romaine, Spring Mix, Italian Mix, Upland Cress, and Sweet Butter Lettuce, and are slated for a nationwide distribution this summer. And, the team tells me they are just the first of many innovative and game changing new products the brand plans to roll out in the future.

“I draw my input from many areas, but our starting point is always the consumer, including the mainstream shopper as well as professional chefs. We blend their needs with the capabilities of our own production systems, the organic movement, the greenhouse and hydroponic equipment industry, and the needs of retailers,” says Pete.

Needless to say, Corrie, Pete, John, and Brian assure me that it’s an exciting time in the company’s history. Pete adds that the most rewarding part of launching these disruptive new products is the enthusiasm from buyers and consumers. As a company, introducing this new line of game-changers is promising for the future of Pete’s Living Greens and its employee owners.

Upland Cress in the greenhouse.Corrie shares, “Our go-to-market strategy moving forward is really two-fold. We will continue to invest in building recognition and credibility with the trade. However, Pete’s Living Greens will also begin investing in and building brand recognition, affinity, and engagement through consumer focused programs within a category that hasn’t historically seen this level of consumer-focused marketing.”

Next on the agenda? The Pete’s Living Greens vision is extending beyond the horizon, with national expansion in the works.

“We are excited to have plans in place that will allow us to bring Pete’s Living Greens to east coast markets while still being locally grown,” Corrie discloses about the expansion. “Our national expansion, innovation, and consumer marketing plans will not only help us to grow the Pete’s Living Greens brand but will also help our retail partners to deliver growth for the category as a whole.”

As the spearhead for this initiative, Brian steps in to tell me more about the brand’s impressive plans for the move east. Drawing on his experience working with retail partners and carving out the living greens category, he’s approaching this endeavor with fervor.

“It’s very important for Pete’s Living Greens to live our sustainability message across all aspects of the business,” Brian shares. “For this reason, we’ve decided to tactically expand our operations to provide a regional source that can provide high-quality, voluminous heads of lettuce and strips to provide great value to the consumer.”

Corrie, Pete, John, and Brian are clearly eager for what’s in store at Pete’s Living Greens; and with this A-Team in place, rest assured the legacy will live on.