“It’s about building not only a brand image, but a brand story,” Victoria Nuevo-Celeste explains to me from her Pasadena, California desk. “This is something that’s been thriving in consumer packaged goods (CPG) for a long time. The questions I am trying to answer now are, ‘how do we do this in fresh produce?’ And ‘how can this help different categories to diversify their messaging?’”
And really, how do we transfer successful CPG marketing strategies to the produce industry? If there is ever the perfect storm of a person to answer this question, it is Sun Pacific’s Vice President of Marketing, Victoria Nuevo-Celeste. A veteran of more than 15 years in CPG marketing and celebrated strategic brand planning guru, Victoria’s diverse career has offered her the wide array of skills that give her the confidence to take on one of produce marketing’s most pressing challenges—giving produce brands an effective narrative.
“I come from the competitive arena of CPG marketing, so my focus at Sun Pacific has been to develop strong brands that stand out in the marketplace. To do this you must find a way to connect with a consumer emotionally, but do it in a way that’s still innovative. The narrative has to resonate,” Victoria explains. “Cuties, Mighties, and now the Vintage Sweet Navel Oranges, have all created a story that this generation of millennials is craving. It's authentic, it’s helping the health of America, and it has people thinking about a sustainable future. This is where we’ve found strength.”
"You must find a way to connect with a consumer emotionally, but do it in a way that’s still innovative." - Victoria Nuevo-Celeste
Victoria’s produce career, though still in its infancy, is continuing to grow with the now iconic campaigns she has spearheaded during her two years with Sun Pacific. The Cuties mandarin campaign and partnership with McDonald’s, along with the dynamic Mighties Kiwifruit initiative, have both been projects that have been drawing all eyes across the industry and consumers alike since their inception.
And her agenda is now more full than ever as she sets up big plans to take Sun Pacific to a level it’s never approached before. Just a few things she and the company are planning include expanding production of Cuties mandarins to meet its ever growing demand, tripling Mighties Kiwifruit production by 2025, pushing harder to market the new Vintage Sweet high-brix navel orange program, and the fast approaching debut of the yet-to-be-named table grape program to come in the near future.
You might think that after the decade and a half of successes in CPG marketing, Victoria’s foray into the produce sector was just happenstance—but then you may not know Victoria very well. For the remarkably driven marketing powerhouse, an impressive career isn’t something that happens by mistake, but is instead a concerted effort to take matters into her own hands. In fact, the career she mapped out for herself couldn’t have matured any further from Sun Pacific’s Southern California citrus orchards.
“Well, as you can probably tell from my accent,” she laughs, “I’m originally from Spain where I got started out with my degree in law. But having grown up with a Spanish mother who took the time to teach me about the nutrition of each part of a meal, I was always acutely aware of the importance of looking at what we put into our bodies.”
Equipped with Spain’s rich food culture and mindfulness about nutrition, health, and fitness, Victoria tells me that her journeys to the United States were particularly instrumental in what informed her decision to make the jump to food marketing.
“One of the things that really surprised me the most were the food choices Americans were making,” Victoria points out. “Being such a richly fertile country and not celebrating that to the fullest absolutely inspired me to look towards a career that would help to combat that every day.”
And it didn’t take long for Victoria to find her target once she set out for it. Dorn Wenninger, now holding prominence as Walmart’s VP of Produce and Floral, quickly took her under his wing during his tenure as Chief Administrative Officer of Chiquita. Dorn was an important proponent for Victoria’s early career, she explains.
“Dorn was pretty instrumental in my career; he was the one to give me my first job in the United States,” Victoria shares. “Dorn was a phenomenal advocate for me at the time and I have always kept that in mind throughout my career.”
Following the break she got from her work with Dorn and Chiquita, Victoria set her sights on Southern California and on Nestle, where she spent over a decade finding unique and powerful ways to market everything from Friskies Cat Food, to Butterfinger, rising to the ranks of Marketing Manager for Nestle Hot Cocoa and Nestea, as well as the company’s juice brand, Juicy Juice. While she was always good at what she did, and the experiences she got at Nestle were diverse, Victoria couldn’t help but reminisce on her mother’s kitchen back in Spain and the nutrition lessons she received there. Was her current employment really holding close to her values of improving health and wellness? This is when she made the jump to PepsiCo’s Naked Juice brand, and eventually—Sun Pacific.
"One of the things I’ve always been ready for is opportunity." -Victoria Nuevo-Celeste
“I was at a point where I was ready to focus on brands more aligned with my goals of health and wellness,” Victoria shares with me. “Pepsi’s Naked Juice was certainly a springboard, but it wasn’t until I read an article about the work that Sun Pacific was doing in the produce industry that I was really inspired to reach out and take a risk.”
And what was that risk she refers to? The first thing she did after reading that article was pick up the phone and call Bob DiPiazza, Sun Pacific’s President, and offer him her well-seasoned marketing chops. Victoria says the opportunity she has had to be close to Bob and his wealth of ongoing industry knowledge and connections, has been one of the reasons for her great success.
“One of the things I’ve always been ready for is opportunity, just like this opportunity with Bob and Sun Pacific. A strength of mine is that anything like this that came my way, I was ready to take,” Victoria explains. “You may get lucky and receive an opportunity, but you have to be ready to take it. A lot of people pass up those opportunities, but taking them is something I’ve always done.”
While Victoria says she’s been particularly inspired by the slow food movement (meaning the opposite of fast food) and the shift from center store to the more artisanal and carefully curated perimeters of the store, like fresh produce, for the Sun Pacific marketing story, she also cites the people of the produce industry as an invigorating force behind how her marketing plan came to be.
“Of course, my experience in CPG has greatly informed how I operate Sun Pacific’s marketing plan, but it’s also inspired by the sheer talent and expertise of the people at Sun Pacific,” says Victoria. “Everyone here has a desire to contribute to the outcome and every individual pushes to develop our overall goals and culture. The produce industry, in general, is so much more modest and transparent than CPG, and that’s part of what pushes me to create brands with integrity.”
"Everyone here has a desire to contribute to the outcome and every individual pushes to develop our overall goals and culture." - Victoria Nuevo-Celeste
One person who stands out to her when I ask her who has most influenced her professional life recently? Greg Steltenpohl, CEO of Sun Pacific’s sister company Califia Farms, whom Victoria works closely with to head its marketing department. Not only did he establish Califia with the help of Sun Pacific in 2010, he also co-founded the juice, smoothie, and nutrition bar giant, Odwalla.
“He’s a prolific innovator and an entrepreneur,” she lauds. “He’s the perfect mix of a 20-year-old’s ambition and creativity, but with the business knowledge and record of someone who has been in the industry for over 35 years. He’s the ideal mix of the right brain and the left brain and it shows in what he is creating for Califia.”
Califia Farms is where Victoria says she gets to be a marketing pioneer. With 55 products on the market and another 20 in development for 2016, she is preparing herself for massive growth in the health-conscious beverage company. The message for Califia, not too unlike her messages for the Sun Pacific brand, is that this will be the plant-based beverage company of the future. She wants to say goodbye to big name companies who have become out of touch with their consumers, and plans to take on her former employers PepsiCo and Nestle’s outdated brand portfolios.
Victoria and Sun Pacific have quite literally put a face to their marketing plans for both Cuties and Mighties, as you’ve seen above. Now with the futures of both Sun Pacific and Califia Farms in her hands, there’s no doubt this force of pure strategic power will continue to shape both how we eat, and how we market in the years to come.