You Won't Have Prunes to Kick Around Any More
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Holmes Report

You Won't Have Prunes to Kick Around Any More

Research showed the name “prune” impeded sales. In response, the California Prune Board and Ketchum sought and won approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to change the name to dried plums.

Paul Holmes

Norma Jean Baker and Marion Morrison* did it.  Married women do it frequently.  Now prunes have done it too.  What did they do?  They changed their names!  Since 1991, prunes had experienced steadily declining sales.  Research showed the name “prune” impeded sales.  In response, the California Prune Board and Ketchum sought and won approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to change the name to dried plums.  Ketchum then initiated an intensive publicity program, which has generated a 40 percent awareness for the name change among the target audience.  By December 2000, six months after the program started, dollar sales were up 4.9 percent over the same period in 1999.


People rarely say, “I sure could go for a prune right now.”  When you go into a grocery store you never see prunes featured in a flashy display.  The sale is tougher than that, though it shouldn’t be.  Prunes are delicious, but they have a bad rap as only being a laxative and a food reserved for the older generation.  While some consumers may not like the product’s taste, most simply have negative perceptions about prunes.  “If people can’t get past their associations with the name ‘prune,’ then let’s change the name,” Ketchum urged.  Research supported this bold strategy.  The term, dried plums, exhibited none of the negative reactions that prunes elicited, and it reflects what the product really is.


Usage and attitude and consumer segmentation studies conducted by the California Prune Board beginning in 1996 probed consumer attitudes among non-users of prunes to understand their reluctance to eat or even try the product.  Reasons for not trying prunes ranged from taste and stickiness to digestive effects and the idea that prunes are only for “old people.”

By and large, despite negative associations or unpleasant perceptions, once reluctant consumers tasted prunes, 62 percent liked them.

When non-users sampled prunes they overcame many of their negative stereotypes.

Ketchum urged the California Prune Board to execute focus group discussions centered on the name “prune”—an unattractive word that enforced the negative images and did little to entice consumers.

These attitudinal studies showed that if the product were called dried plums, 76 percent of consumers said they would try it and that they viewed “dried plums” as more appealing than prunes.

The dictionary confirmed it:  by definition prunes really are dried plums!


Primary:  Women, 35-50 (higher HH income and education than average)

Secondary:  Mothers with Children and Women and Men, 65+


The California Prune Board officially requested approval from the FDA to change the name of prunes to dried plums in May 1999.  The California Prune Board enlisted California Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein to help speed the process.  Ketchum began developing a campaign to make dried plums the biggest news the industry had ever seen.

Measurable Objectives

Create awareness for name change from prunes to dried plums

Motivate trial and usage among non-users


For years prunes have been the subject of jokes and toilet humor.  There was little question that to effectively combat this stigma, the campaign must be lighthearted in approach.  In subtle ways it made fun of the people who made jokes about this delicious fruit.

Create a fun, provocative campaign in which prunes are renamed dried plums

Blanket the media with information on the exciting new image of dried plums


The Early “Leak”

In December 1999 word of the FDA name change request and Senators Boxer and Feinstein’s involvement leaked prematurely to a columnist at the Washington Post and the news quickly spread.  Ketchum seized this opportunity to enhance the media’s interest in dried plums through immediate intensive outreach to major media outlets such as the Today Show and through announcement of the pending name change to the food community via the International Association of Culinary Professionals’ annual conference.

The Official Name Change

Ketchum planned to leverage appeal of the name change by supplying media with enticing visuals of California Senator Boxer during a  formal name change announcement on Capitol Hill upon the FDA’s approval.  Approval of the name change was granted on June 6, 2000.  

Oops…It’s Leaked Again

The news was again leaked and media immediately began to report the FDA approval.

Managing the News

There was no time for a fancy press conference.  Ketchum immediately began aggressive media pitching using wire and satellite vehicles to gain control of the name change message.

Media: Ketchum immediately released the story with a quote from Senator Boxer over the major newswires and the Internet.  B-roll, including soundbites from the California Prune Board’s Executive Director Rich Peterson and Senator Boxer, and production footage of dried plums was uplinked to satellite several times over the following days.  Intensive media calls pitching the story and offering b-roll began at 4:30 a.m. the first morning of the satellite uplinks.  An audio news release was produced and immediately distributed, including Senator Boxer’s sound bite.

Internet: In addition to placing the release on Internet Wire, Ketchum contracted with as an additional resource to reach an extensive community of food editors and online consumers.

Sampling: Ketchum understood that the name change would be best received by non-users if coupled with sampling.  Ketchum revised its current six-market grassroots sampling campaign (“Get on Par with California Prunes”) to include information on the name change.   Dried plum snack packs were distributed to more than 90,000 consumers.  Concurrent radio promotions were augmented to incorporate the new dried plum name.

Opinion leaders: Consumer affairs directors at major supermarket chains and dietitians received name change press kits encouraging them to communicate the news to consumers.

Long lead media: Press kits were sent to newspaper food editors, general interest and magazine food editors, and grocery and produce trade editors nation wide.


Create awareness for name change from prunes to dried plums:

Media interest in the name change was immediate and universal.  The news spread far and fast, generating more than 430,112,245 impressions to date:

  • 145,818,750 impressions prior to the name change approval  
  • 282,864,495 impressions and counting surrounding the name change approval  
  • 1,429,000 impressions from radio promotions

Dried plums have even reached deep enough to penetrate non-news sources such as comic strips and the monologues of late night talk shows such as The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

Data from a survey of consumers conducted in August 2000 showed that among the target audience, 40 percent were aware that prunes are now dried plums.   Among the general population, 25 percent were aware.  Dietitians surveyed at the American Dietetic Association conference in October 2000 showed an awareness rate of 47 percent.

Anecdotal evidence suggests news of the name change is snowballing via word of mouth (and for this purpose incalculable, but worth noting) including comments from high profile editors, speakers at conferences, airline seatmates and many people’s mother.  Go ahead, ask yours.

Motivate trial and usage among non-users:

More than 90,000 people sampled dried plums via guerilla sampling in six markets.

IRI data showed that volume sales increased 1.3 percent during the 12-week period from September 24 to December 17 while dollar sales increased 4.9 percent compared to the same period 12 months prior.

NOTE: Following the successful acceptance of their product’s name change, the California Prune Board voted to change its name to the California Dried Plum Board in November 2000.
*Marilyn Monroe and John Wayne

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