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Outside the Lines: A Q&A with Nichole Towell, Senior Director of Marketing and Packaging Procurement, Duda Farm Fresh Foods

Outside the Lines: A Q&A with Nichole Towell, Senior Director of Marketing and Packaging Procurement, Duda Farm Fresh Foods

We do not use a word like “limitless” lightly in the fresh produce industry. This is due largely, in my opinion, to the inherent restraints, restrictions, and challenges that everyone from growers, packers, and shippers face, all the way to the dominating demands of the produce department. But, when it comes to companies like Duda Farm Fresh Foods, which constantly draw outside the lines in terms of innovation, I can only think of limitless possibilities for this research and development (R&D) powerhouse player. That boundless language just feels like home.

And home is where both the heart (pun intended) and soul of the company are, embedded in a progressive desire to generate more value in the fresh produce space. The company’s breeding program, located in Salinas, California, allows the family of growers to develop trendsetting new celery varieties with unique attributes and benefits, specifically focused on flavor and the overall quality of the diners’ eating experience. Paired with the desire to make chefs’ and retailers’ buy-side programs a hit on the plate or in the produce department, Team Duda Farm Fresh Foods is kicking limitless into high gear.

Proprietary varieties and an unrivaled breeding program not only help the company align with its vision of bringing the best quality and flavor to consumers, but they also stand as a testament to the Duda family’s dedication to excellence and the promise of a long fresh produce legacy.

While I imagine the harvest transport rolling into the operation, fast-moving water jet lines slicing and dicing celery to order, and the whir of innovation at hand, Nichole Towell, Senior Director of Marketing and Packaging Procurement, rises above the sound of ingenuity to talk with me about the groundbreaking program and celery’s status as a fresh produce power player.


Jordan Okumura: As a category leader in celery R&D, growing, and marketing, Duda Farm Fresh Foods has cultivated varieties that redefine celery excellence. What are some of these key attributes that both consumers and retailers crave and desire?

Nichole Towell: Innovation is as integral to our identity as our family farming foundation. With our team of scientists and lab personnel, we carefully analyze the components that make up celery flavor to ensure our proprietary varieties taste sweeter than any other commercially available seed varieties. With our state-of-the-art flavor and nutrition laboratory—set up with an analytical “tongue” and “nose”—we have made significant investments to better understand and work with nature to perfect growing the sweetest, crispiest varieties available. That means we’re continually studying and testing our product to ensure our customers have access to the highest-quality and best-tasting celery in the market.

JO: With all those moving parts and promises to your customers, I understand why your partners hold Duda Farm Fresh Foods to such a high standard. How have these tried and true attributes made celery a more versatile veg at retail and on the plate?

NT: We work with Mother Nature and a team of scientists to reduce the bitter flavor compounds in Dandy® Celery to ensure it’s the superior, sweeter, and better-tasting celery, especially when being enjoyed fresh on its own. We’ve seen the snacking category grow and understand the importance of convenience items. Celery snack packs as a whole have seen a 50 percent-plus average weekly dollar increase since March of 2020 compared to the same time period of 2019—even during the pandemic. Through our marketing efforts, we’ve been able to extend the season with celery outside of Christmas, Thanksgiving, and the Super Bowl into snacking year-round.

JO: One exciting use for celery in recent years has been its essential presence in the juicing craze, and it seems to be finding its niche in other activities and opportunities as well. How is Duda Farm Fresh Foods tapping the rising popularity of the celery movement?

NT: Since the juicing trend took off early in 2019, the demand for celery skyrocketed and we are partnering for its use across menus, libations, and more. When the celery juicing trend gained momentum, we created a celery juicing page on our website to help guide beginners and inspire juicing veterans with recipes, nutritional information, and fun resources to boot.

We recently wrapped our first ever Dog Days of Summer promotion that highlighted the use of celery in dog treats as well as summer recipes for consumers, so it has moved way beyond just juicing. We’re working on finalizing details around our fall promotion that will encourage consumers to enjoy fresh celery snacks during outdoor activities.

 

JO: With retail and menu planning for fall and winter holidays already upon us—Canadian Thanksgiving and U.S. Thanksgiving, for example—what advice and best practices does Duda have for the buy-side, whether it be merchandising, packaging, or uses on the plate?

NT: We utilize a 360-degree marketing strategy that aims to reach consumers through multiple outlets and channels. By providing information online and in stores at the retail level, we’re able to inspire consumers to make further purchases. For example, we share a number of recipes and celery uses on our social media and with consumer email marketing. In the store, we encourage cross-promotion of products as well as on-pack details to make the buying decision even easier.

JO: What are some of the driving statistics and support offerings for Duda’s celery program, and how do you see them playing out this holiday season?

NT: With family-farming roots that go back nearly a century, and a team of celery breeders with a combined 180-plus years of experience, it is not hard to see why the Dandy brand was nicknamed the “Celery King.”

We grow both organic and conventional celery in Arizona, California, Florida, and Michigan, with 152 proprietary celery varieties in all. Add in the 37 patented and protected celery varieties, and we have a war chest preparing us for every circumstance, need or desire, and expected or unexpected element in the category.

As we look through the fall and into winter, we’re working on our annual fall promotion that will focus on encouraging consumers to get outside and be active in the fresh air while enjoying healthy and delicious snacks with Dandy Celery.

One of my favorite stats to share is that 33 percent of America’s celery can be traced back to Duda Family Farms, and that is a number I can get behind every day. Can’t you?


Why, yes, I do believe I can. It becomes that much more evident that the doors crack open in the presence of a company like Duda Farm Fresh Foods way more than they close. With boundless and untold paths ahead to choose from, I think the industry is more than willing to let Duda Farm Fresh Foods lead by example into a truly limitless future. 

Outside the Lines: A Q&A with Nichole Towell, Senior Director of Marketing and Packaging Procurement, Duda Farm Fresh Foods