Grassroots Marketing: Garden Fresh Salsa

Jack Aronson used the power of the taste bud to build a loyal customer base for his Garden Fresh products – he gave away free samples!

Name:  Jack Aaronson
Company:  Garden Fresh Gourmet Inc.

Jack’s Story:

Have you ever come up with a great recipe that has commercial potential written all over it? Have you done anything to get it into the market? Jack Aronson has. He turned a recipe for salsa into a sizzling success.

Jack already sold dozens of varieties of other companies’ bottled sauces at the barbeque joint he owned as well as at his store, called the Hot Zone. But while sampling items at the Fiery Foods trade show in New Mexico in 1998, Jack had an epiphany. The fresh and natural stuff was so much better than conventional bottled salsas—why couldn’t he bottle and sell his own recipe for fresh, refrigerated salsa?

At first, “Jack’s Special” salsa was only available at his restaurant and store. Then the owner of a small grocery chain asked Jack if he could sell it at his own stores. Soon, Jack was making and bottling enough sauce to sell to 70 groceries. And when he took his product to the Fiery Foods Show in 1999, he swept the awards there, setting off a firestorm of interest among retailers.

“’All-natural’ differentiates us from all the others,” Jack says, “because 99.5% of the salsa companies in America use preservatives. And no one likes the idea of eating preservatives.”

Six years later, Jack’s Garden Fresh products have expanded to a dozen different salsas, chips and dips, and they’re available in 35 states and about 4,000 stores. “We’re the second-largest producer of refrigerated salsa in America right now,” Jack crows. “But we’re No. 1 in ‘all-natural.’”

Jack’s Key Move: Grassroots Marketing

Jack knew that in trying to carve out a market for a new food product, in a segment already occupied by hundreds of competitors, he was going to have to do something drastic. “I knew I couldn’t out-advertise the big boys, because you have to do a lot of it—and for a long time—to have impact,” he says.

Jack also believed that, to get consumers to part with $4 for a bottle of his salsa instead of maybe $2.50 for a bottle of the conventional stuff, he simply had to get Jack’s Garden Fresh into their mouths. Enter Jack’s grassroots marketing strategy of providing free tastings. By providing product samples, he got people to crave his product.

Jack’s clustered his distribution tightly enough so that he could hire his own staff of sales reps to set up “passive” sampling at as many as 15 stores a day. They put out a basket of fresh chips and Jack’s tantalizing salsas near the deli counter or in the produce section. And shoppers come back again and again. The sales reps also drop off free samples at local businesses with a list of stores in their area that sell Garden Fresh.

Garden fresh free samplesAs often as possible, Jack and his family do the grassroots field work themselves. “At a Whole Foods store, before the Super Bowl, my brother was providing samples and sold 540 pints.”

Jack hired his sister’s family in Atlanta to blanket that market with samples, too. He also is dispatching his sister-in-law to hire temporary staffs and do bursts of sampling in Florida and in Colorado .

“Is that crazy and expensive? Yes,” Jack concedes. “Big companies certainly think I’m a lunatic. But I’ve gone from selling 20 pints of salsa out of the back of my restaurant to selling seven million pints last year. That speaks for itself.”

Jack’s Bonus Insight:

Jack aronsonIf you can’t afford to advertise, a semi truck makes a great rolling billboard. Jack’s Garden Fresh is wrapping four trucks with huge advertisements. “Billboards cost $10,000 a month in Chicago , and they’re seen by about 50,000 people a day,” he says. “But these trucks will be out on the road every day too. You only pay once for the truck and about $5,000 to wrap them. And 44,000 people a day will see one of those. Not bad.”

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