High Profile - Raisin' Awareness

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Harry Overly

President and CEO,
Sun-Maid Growers of California

... I would be hard pressed to find another brand within
the snacking space that has anywhere close
to the emotional equity Sun-Maid has.

If you check Instagram and Pinterest regularly, you’ve probably noticed that society is fully engaged in an era obsessed with “natural.” From beauty to food, we are passionately consumed with finding the purest solutions to meet our everyday needs—and brands are capitalizing on that desire by introducing new products claiming to be those solutions. While many brands are new to this phenomenon, Sun-Maid has been marketing “Just Grapes & Sunshine®” in the “little red box” for more than 100 years—staying true to its roots (literally) with a steadfast commitment to all-natural, clean products. Now, under the leadership of President and CEO Harry Overly, Sun-Maid Growers of California is raisin’ awareness about just how relevant this quintessentially Californian agriculture cooperative is in our modern world.

Relevancy has been Sun-Maid’s biggest challenge over the last decade as the brand has watched others enter the snacking market, winning the hearts and wallets of consumers—specifically, millennial moms. With millennials less likely to consider raisins than other audience demographics, including kids and boomers, Sun-Maid realized it needed to bring excitement to the dried fruit category to get its products back into the minds of these critical consumers. Enter Harry, who acknowledged the raisin industry needed some attention because it was not growing. “Sun-Maid is such a well-respected and worldly recognized brand that has not been nurtured in a long time. The opportunity, and significant challenge, to bring such an iconic brand back to the forefront and introduce it to today’s parents and kids was hard to pass up.”

Rooted in Agriculture

Born in Madison, Wisconsin, Harry grew up in a small town outside of the state’s capital. “Growing up in a heavy agricultural area (many dairy and hogs farms), I watched friends’ families ride the ups and downs of their respective farming operations,” reflects Harry. “I never thought I would be in a position to assist those in similar agriculturally-based situations.  Now, Sun-Maid gives me the opportunity to strengthen a great business and provide greater economic value for 700+ growers and their families.” 

Harry touts Sun-Maid’s overall willingness to evolve and transform as one of the reasons he took the reins of the beloved brand. A graduate from the University of Madison as a Food Science major, Harry originally was double majoring in Medical Microbiology and Immunology with intentions to head to medical school.  “One elective class, Food Microbiology, got me interested in the industry. I became fascinated with developing and marketing food products. I began interning for Kraft Foods and the rest is history.” Today, he boasts an impressive resume, having worked for The Kraft Heinz Company (their Oscar Mayer/Kraft Pizza Division), Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company (now Mars), BestSweet Inc., TreeHouse Foods, and Deoleo (best known in the US for Bertolli olive oil).

Upon joining Sun-Maid, Harry knew he had to restructure and reposition the brand by expanding beyond raisins and creating a broader snacking platform for millennials and their kids. “Our research shows that millennials remember the brand fondly and have an affinity for raisins and the category as a whole,” he says. “We found millennials remember their own snack times with Sun-Maid as children and think back with positive, nostalgic feelings. Our approach is to market to the millennial parents by designing snacking solutions for them and their families.”

Step one was to address the need for more aggressive tactics towards innovation and marketing with Sun-Maid’s Board of Directors. Harry laid out a new vision for the company with a multi-year plan, and they have provided unwavering support for the new strategy. Marketing within the retail sector being the core of the company’s structure, he utilized national TV, online video, digital ads, Hulu, and Amazon, as well as Facebook, and new in-store displays to create the largest “360 marketing initiative” in more than a decade. 

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When it came to messaging, Harry built a new team, with existing and new personnel, and enlisted new agency partners to come up with a creative campaign that encourages millennials to rediscover Sun-Maid through their own children. The approach is designed to reignite nostalgic memories and, ultimately, recreate opportunities to introduce Sun-Maid’s “little red boxes” to this generation. The result was “Grow Young,” which celebrates the wonder of childhood and is designed to spark new moments of joy and curiosity for families. Along the way, the brand is staying true to its commitment to the timelessness of wholesome snacking that parents and kids alike love.

What does the future of Sun-Maid look like? “Bright. Our new strategy is to leverage our most valuable corporate asset, beyond our people and our growers, that being the brand itself. We intend to aggressively market our brand while improving upon our core raisin operations to significantly increase our efficiencies. This will give us the foundation to extend the brand beyond its current singularly-focused commodity business and begin diversifying our portfolio. Our future portfolio will be focused on product innovation and marketing communications within the better-for-you snacking space to solve the unmet needs of our customers. We will expand the entire business with a combination of internally-derived innovation efforts in addition to growth via acquisitions. Upon execution, we will be able to deliver unmatched, and previously unseen, shareholder returns to our grower base.” The results are already paying off with sales of “little red boxes” increasing double digits—reversing trends evident when Harry first arrived on the scene 18 months ago. 

Insights and Innovation

Sun-Maid is also building a product pipeline that appeals to all audiences. Beginning with the re-launch of its Sour Raisin Snacks, the brand is placing them in the fruit snacks aisle of grocery stores rather than the dried fruit aisle and rebranding the packaging to appeal to millennials. The brand also has a series of new product launches planned out over the next 36 months. While snack aisles are crowded with buzzworthy startups making a bold entrance and innovating with good products, Harry believes Sun-Maid’s recognition alone does half the work to be successful. “What we haven’t done, until now, is come to the table with relevant products or any innovation. But there’s not a brand in this category that can compete with us on an emotional level. In fact, I would be hard pressed to find another brand within the snacking space that has anywhere close to the emotional equity Sun-Maid has.”

Today, Sun-Maid’s culture is truly better than it ever has been. “Our culture has been completely transformed to operate with the ideals of transparency, collaboration, accountability, and empowerment across our teams. This is critical as we now operate with a consumer insight-driven mindset and our teams are accountable to deliver upon their goals. It’s both incredible and humbling to see how our teams have embraced our new strategies and ways of working, resulting in them becoming energized to be a part of this growth plan. This required an open mind and an ambition to learn—and I’m very proud to see how our team has stepped up!” Harry’s down-to-earth approach demonstrates that with the leadership of a devoted trailblazer and the support of an open mind and community, adaptation can transform into thriving potential.

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Vanishing Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Makes 48 cookies.

Variations

Bar Cookies 

  • Makes 24 bars.

  • Press dough onto bottom of un greased 13x9-inch baking pan. 

  • Bake 30-35 minutes or until light golden brown. 

  • Cool completely in pan on wire rack. 

  • Cut into bars. 

  • Store tightly covered.

Raisin Substitutions 

  • Substitute or add in 1 cup chopped nuts. 

  • Substitute 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips or candy-coated chocolate pieces for raisins; omit cinnamon. 

  • Substitute 1 cup diced dried mixed fruit.

Ingredients

1½ cups all-purpose flour

½ cup plus 6 tbs. butter (softened)

¾ cup brown sugar (firmly packed)

½ cup sugar (granulated)

2 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. cinnamon (ground)

½ tsp. salt (optional)

3 cups Quaker® oats (quick or old fashioned, uncooked)

1 cup Sun-Maid raisins

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

  • In a large bowl, beat butter and sugars on medium speed of electric mixer until creamy. 

  • Add eggs and vanilla; beat well. 

  • Add combined flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt; mix well. 

  • Add oats and raisins; mix well.

  • Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets.

  • Bake 8-10 minutes or until light golden brown. 

  • Cool 1 minute on cookie sheets; remove to wire rack; cool completely. 

  • Store tightly covered.

 
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Fruit Tartines

Makes 4 Servings.

Ingredients

1/2 cup cream cheese (softened)

4 English muffins (split and toasted)

1/2 cup chocolate-hazelnut spread (such as Nutella®)

1 apple (thinly sliced)

2 tbs. cinnamon sugar

1/2 cup Sun-Maid Natural Raisins

1/4 cup chopped Sun-Maid Apricots

Directions

  • Heat broiler.

  • Spread cream cheese on each muffin half; spoon chocolate-hazelnut spread in center of cream cheese. 

  • Top with apple slices, raisins, and apricots. 

  • Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. 

  • Broil 30 to 60 seconds, or until warm and lightly glazed.

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Fresno-Valley Zucchini &

Raisin Pizza

Makes 4 servings.

Ingredients

1 tbs. olive oil

1 clove garlic (large, minced or pressed)

1 tsp. lemon zest

1 zucchini (small)

1 large or 2 small Valley Lahvosh Cracker Bread

½ cup (4 oz.) feta cheese or goat cheese (crumbled)

¼ cup Parmesan cheese (shredded)

1 tbs. pine nuts

⅓ cup Sun-Maid raisins

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

  • Combine olive oil, garlic, and lemon zest in a medium bowl.

  • Slide a vegetable peeler firmly along the length of the zucchini to make thin “ribbons.” 

  • Mix zucchini ribbons thoroughly with olive oil mixture.

  • Crumble feta or spread goat cheese evenly over Cracker Bread.

  • Sprinkle raisins over cheese. 

  • Arrange zucchini evenly on top, lightly folding and mounding the ribbons. 

  • Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and pine nuts.

  • Bake directly on oven rack or a baking sheet for 10 minutes or until cheese is melted.