LA Business Podcast

38. Kathryn Grandy, Director of Marketing and Operations at Proprietary Variety Management

Kathryn Grandy Branding Products
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In this episode, we talk to Kathryn Grandy about bringing branded Apples to the marketplace.

Intro: Welcome to the LA Business Podcast, a form for business owners and senior executives to share the experiences about the elements that drive their success. Your host, Robert Brill, CEO of an Inc 500 company. Delivering the power of hyper-local advertising. Robert writes for Forbes, Inc. And ad trade publications.

Our goal is to bring you the stories about successes and failures of people who are making big things happen in marketing, entrepreneurship, and management.

Robert Brill: Welcome to another episode of the LA business podcast. Our guest today is Katherine Grandy, director of marketing and operations for proprietary variety management. Thanks for being with us.

Kathryn Grandy: Well, thank you for having me.

Robert Brill: So I did a little bit of research. You are the folks behind pink lady, apples.

Kathryn Grandy: We are.

Robert Brill: And a number of other brands. Tell us about, tell us about your career. You have a storied career. You’ve worked with some major brands looking at ATT and T Hewlett Packard, lots, lots going on.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Kathryn Grandy: Well, I’ve been in marketing my entire career. I’m passionate about it. Enjoy it. So really working with proprietary variety management and are the Apple growers in Washington state and around the world has been one of the most rewarding challenges I’ve had yet.

And, our company did bring in pink lady, to the North American continent, over 20 years ago. And it is the largest and most non-brand Apple brand around the world, the first branded Apple. And we’ve had very large projects from Snap Dragon and Ruby Frost, which are the New York apples. We’re doing the international commercialization and most recently Cosmic Crisps which is  the first apple a native of Washington developed for the climate here and the soil. And as many people know, Washington state is known for apples. We grow 70 to 75% of the fresh market apples in the country, but this is our first native Apple. So we’re pretty excited about it.

Robert Brill: So Katherine, let me ask you a question.

Branding, an Apple genius. It makes a lot of sense. Tell us the story. So you’ve been with, the business since 2016. Tell us how you brand an Apple.

Kathryn Grandy: Well, it’s an interesting story. I mean, Cosmic Crisp itself. Has been developed over the last more than 20 years. And really what our breeders do is they start looking at what consumer tastes trends are and projecting them out to the future.

And right now, I mean, people want across the produce aisle, better tasting fruit and vegetables and yeah. And so we found the project with Washington state university. And we realized that, you know, the trend is also to brand produce based on its characteristics. And so we were given the project and we did a lot of data research, globally.

And looked at the US market and what’s happening with apples and their popularity and what consumer trends are. And then we did large scale consumer focus groups to really. Try to understand what consumers want, what they’re thinking, what resonates and, with the Apple, we found that, you know, consumers want great flavor, texture, color, size, and shape juiciness.

They want it to store well. They want a great eating experience. And we felt that Cosmic Crisp was the answer to that. And, you know, in our consumer focus groups, we really went in with a lot of knowledge and it was really a very much a confirmation of what we suspected and actually in one of the, Seattle-based, consumer focus  groups, they said, we said, what about a name for it was Washington 38.

That’s not a very, a sexy name. And so, yeah. One consumer said it’s got this beautiful, dark red color with these Starlight bursts, which we call lenticels on the Apple. And it looks like the night sky and someone else said, yeah, like the cosmos and then with the Enterprise and Honeycrisp has the parents some down the road in that brainstorming session, somebody said, Cosmic Crisp, Bingo. That’s a great name.

Robert Brill: Consumers like the texture, but the Apple is by by name and by experience crispy juicy. How do you communicate that to the larger consumer when there’s so many different products that are consumers buying on a, on a daily basis, whether it’s made, made by nature or not? There’s a lot of, a lot of things that we buy.

And so you’re, you’re vying for a lot of attempts for attention from. With a lot of different competitors in the market for Mindshare.

Kathryn Grandy: Absolutely. And to be quite honest, I think there’s somewhere around 40 branded apples that are on the news side, in the US and over a hundred Apple selections that a person can buy at any given time in our country.

So it’s a big challenge. And, you know, with the Cosmic Crisp, we, our team, we gathered together and we said, you know, we really need to build the brand. We need to do it quickly because we have critical mass coming. I mean, right now in Washington state, we have almost 16 million trees planted. So we have a large volume that’s going to cover the country.

We are also commercializing this globally, but we felt very strongly that our campaign needed to mean something. You know, it’s a healthy product. And, and, you know, we didn’t want to be gimmicky. We wanted to be very authentic, very genuine because it, you know, it is being grown by family farms. Some who have actually even bet the farm on the Apple success, you know, so we every day think about our growers and, you know, we want to get the best return to them.

And provide the consumer with something great. And, you know, we really strongly believe in the brand and the Apple and that we are delivering a quality product. So I think that message right there is, is part of the sincerity of our campaign. And then looking back at some of the. The reasons, you know, it was imagined we started with imagine the possibilities because some buddy Bruce Barrett, the developer had a vision, a dream for an Apple that consumers would love, and we wanted to carry that theme on.

And so we did a campaign, really looking at children through adulthood. Of what is your dream? Is it to be a chef, an artist, uh, an astronaut, you know, and we focused our campaign on helping people see the vision of their dreams and how to achieve them. And we felt like in this time in our world, there’s a lot of transition.

There’s a lot going on. That’s, you know, competing for not only the food space, but the political arena, the world issues. And we wanted to, to deliver something very positive, something about a big dream to our consumers. And we did test those ideas. And that seemed to really resonate with people. They said that they want to look at, you know, something yeah.

Can achieve in their lives. And we built an influencer campaign. A big digital campaign around some amazing influencers. And, um, we contracted people like Leroy Chiao, and Leroy is the retired international space station commander for NASA and just a tremendous person. He took a lot of photography learned really how to photograph in space.

And wrote a book and started a, a nonprofit for education called one orbit and he is extremely engaging and he’s been to the orchards of Washington state. We are going to announce a new, additional space. Astronauts, that will be, it’s a female astronaut from Washington state. So, it’s all about education and, really, you know, apples are linked to space in the sense that it’s one of the most favorite, Products delivered fresh to the space station, who knows, you know, maybe when we’re going to go to the moon next and have people live there.

So we can launch from there to Mars in the future, who knows if we will be growing apples on that base on the moon, you know, you just, the opportunities and dreams are big and, unlimited really. And. And then, you know, we realized, I mean, it’s a fresh product and the best way to, to Mark and it is to get it in people’s mouths and let them taste it and let it sell itself.

And, you know, it’s pretty expensive to, sample. And so we worked a partnership with the Missoula children’s theater out of Missoula, Montana, and it’s the largest. International children’s theater in. And, they travel to over something like 20 countries and every state in the US and there’s over 1100 performances, hundreds of thousands of, audiences and community members that are in the audience.

And we worked as part of the slicing partnership with Washington based crunch pack and we ship boxes of a refrigerated two ounce sliced apples along with some whole apples to the performances. So MCT is, is really focused on health and nutrition, nutritious snacks with their. Children actors that are from the schools and we’re able to sample the audiences.

So it was really our ability to be the national sponsor for Missoula children’s theater that impacts empowering children and bringing these performances to communities while also providing healthy snacks. And then. Providing samples of the Cosmic Crisp to the audience. So tastings believing, right?

Robert Brill: So I imagine that if enough consumers saw the name Cosmic Crisp in advertising on television and heard it on radio and digital media and just saw Cosmic Crisp Apple. It’s amazing. I figured that the name recognition alone, the next time the customer goes to the local grocery store out of all the apples that they see that they would be particularly interested in Cosmic Crisp has that type of testing or marketing played out.

And if so, what kind of results did you get there or is it, are you exclusively focused on influencers and you know, content, creators of that, of that sort.

Kathryn Grandy: We, do a lot of digital, so the influencers are very important. The theaters very important, the theater group to us. We also have some chefs that we work with and really trying to, show different audiences, different demographics, the various ways to use apples, like in, you know, traditionally people think fresh eating or pies, but really you could make a sandwich with an Apple or there’s so many ways to have a, as the poached Apple with cinnamon instead of a sweet dessert.

I mean, it’s still sweet, but it’s natural sugar and so I think really doing some education on, you know, the various ways that re resonate with different age groups and our hope is that, you know, it will really bring Apple consumption back in the forefront. And our Apple is very versatile. It’s a great snacking Apple.

It’s beautiful. So you can use it in decor and entertaining. And it’s just amazing to bake with.

Robert Brill: You know, the old saying a rising tide lifts, all ships. Right? How do you, how do you maximize your return when you’re, I mean, look, you’re making a fantastic point of view on why I should just be eating apples.

Right? How do you ensure that people buy cosmic, crisp apples? Not a. I don’t know the other guy.

Kathryn Grandy: Yeah. Well, that’s, that’s a great question. I mean, we do hope that apple consumption goes up. Generally for everyone. And everyone’s succeeds the Cosmic Crisp. We educate consumers on the flavor and the texture and the storage ability.

And, you know, really we have a large volume of apples. So this Apple will be able to be in retail or at retail 12 months of the year. And you know, that’s the downside of some of the people’s favorite new apples is they’re only on the shelf for one month, two months. And, this year, well, in 2021, you’ll be able to find Cosmic Crisp most.

If not all 12 months of the year and then in the future, absolutely after that every, every month. And it holds its freshness really well. And when, one of the things, you know, if you bite into an Apple, you want a little resistance, you don’t want it to be soft and neely. And so the cosmic has been researched.

It’s proven itself that it’s stores very well. So we have really built the brand and delivered on the promise, even though we just launched it last year and it’s sold out across the country. And it got refilled sold out over and over. And so we do believe that we have really built the brand through media, through education, through sampling, through our influencers.

And, and that we have delivered our growers have provided an amazing product to us, to, to promote and sell. So, you know, this year is a challenge because of COVID and various, you know, things that are happening in our country. And, you know, we honestly don’t have any fruit until November to ship.

Robert Brill: Why is that?

Kathryn Grandy: Because last year was the first year that the trees were old enough to start producing and there was a relatively small amount of fruit. And so it sold out in the March, April timeline. And last year, I think we shipped somewhere around 350,000 boxes of apples across the country. This year, we’re gonna going to ship around 2 million.

So it’s an enormous increase. Next year it’ll be about five and a half to 6 million boxes. So we’ll have a great supply of apples and you know, that, you know, delivering on that flavor promise and being able to have it at retail, those are huge things.

Robert Brill: Does it make sense to market right now. Or are you kind of like slowing down?

Right? Cause on the one hand, people can buy. On the other hand, you’re building a brand for the longterm.

Kathryn Grandy: Right. Well, you know, it is a challenge and I mean, honestly, I’m thankful we were able to launch last year because, you know, I mean, you know, COVID and various activities that are going on in our country of suck the oxygen out of the media.

I mean, that’s the story. It’s not this new Apple or new product at retail. And. So, you know, we’re also fairly quiet because we aren’t going to have fruit November, but, we have been really, we pivoted as a marketing team. We said, okay, you know, we don’t have fruit until November. And it’s also, there’s a lot going on that people are preoccupied in the world.

So how can we make things? Continued talking to our engaged consumers and, you know, continue on and without really a loud, loud voice, we’ve focused on digital. We have, you know, had various, events on social media. We have built summertime learning. And use some of our influencers like Shantia McEntire, who’s a former teacher herself and understands right now what a lot of people are going through because she has four young children at home.

So she’s been working on some, you know, children education, with apples and with, you know, various things. So. You know, that’s really, we have a very engaged social audience and that has really resonated. We were a sponsor of the national astronaut day in may. And, you know, there were a lot of amazing educational,  activities and we participated in providing some Apple craft activities.

Which were, you know, really fun and related to space apples. And they also sponsored a Dottie Metcalf. Lindenberger an astronaut or, student talk. So that was another way of staying engaged. And then, you know, unified with agency that we work with hosted the, national astronaut day virtually.

And they had this amazing, activity with, for children or adults to draw a picture on a postcard and it’s self-addressed it to themselves. And then it went up to the international space station if they got it in by date. I think that’s, you know, just really part of our focus is that people are home cooking.

Let’s give them some ideas. Let’s remind them that, you know, they’re. Our apples are coming we’re still out there to support them and really, keep our name, name first and foremost.

Robert Brill: Do platforms like a TilTok. Does that do anything for you guys? Like do you participate?

Kathryn Grandy: You know, we’re not on TikTok.

We’re basically Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and we are really working on our Pinterest platform. With, you know, because it’s popular and also just the need right now, it’s being so heavily used for ideas. So, you know, we’re have a very engaged audience and our numbers are fantastic from the metrics side.

So we know that, we’re reaching people. We are doing various contests and fun activities, and we have enormous participation from across the country.

Robert Brill: Other than other than obviously selling out, which is a fantastic situation to be in. I would imagine, right. It’s better than the alternative. But also a downside that you can sell more, especially right now.

Cause I’m sure it would fly off the shelves. How do you measure are there, what are the sort of metrics that you look at for success of your campaigns, with the space stuff and, and Pinterest and whatnot?

Kathryn Grandy: You know what I mean? I think we look at all the metrics socially, you know, and that tells us, you know, engagement is very important, you know, and are we reaching consumers and, and the people who are out buying apples, our consumers have a lot of questions.

So we’re building various videos. And so all of that activity is measured and you know how it’s linked to our various platforms. You know, we do measure that . Our company PVM Proprietary Variety Management really believes in the value today, starting with the consumer, going to the breeders and nurseries, the growers, the packer shippers, the sales companies, the retailers.

And then ultimately back to the consumer because they’re the ones actually buying the product and, you know, it’s, everybody needs to succeed in that chain for us to be successful and the consumers need to be happy with their purchase. And then all the way down, up and down the chain and our growers and our packer shippers need to, to make money on what they’re growing.

And there are a lot of, yeah, older varieties of apples where they don’t, it’s, it’s hard to sell them for what they’re paying to grow them. So we’re trying to really. You know, measure every step of the way and make sure that everybody is succeeding and, and in those we all have individual measurements.

Robert Brill: Amazing. What does it take to manufacture like an Apple that’s customized for these attributes? It seems very complicated.

Kathryn Grandy: Well, you know, the interesting thing, first of all, it takes. Three years to really get a tree grown and it will rooting the first year and the second year, but you know, you’re three, four, five, you know, it will be much more significant in its yield.

But you know, many apples are brought to market quickly. Cosmic Crisp has been researched for a very long time. And one of the things we believe is that it’s easier for growers to grow the trees. It’s naturally resistant to some of the conditions that affect apples. And that is very helpful because they don’t have to spray as much.

They don’t have as much damage to the fruit. So you get more boxes for per bin, then a lot of different types of varieties. So I mean, that’s very important and that’s really so much behind the research is, you know, are we going to give our growers use a product that. They can actually deliver and afford to grow and grow relatively easy.

The research, also, you know, is just an important for storing apples, but going back even further, a lot of people say, Oh, You’re saying this is the quintessential Apple, you know, and it must be GMO. Well, I’m not commenting one way or the other on GMO. However, this is not GMO. It’s a naturally grown Apple.

It was classically bread, which is basically the seed being pollinated, by two parents. So that seed developed, you know, into a small tree and grew and grew and grew. And, there were about 10,000 of that cross pollinated, naturally planted trees and Bruce Barrett walked up and down every time yay.

For years and watched his, his babies grow. And if you will, and. And, you know, as they matured, you know, he was really researching and managing his team and kept coming back to one tree as it fruited, the fruit was lasting. That was flavorful and it just had the attributes. And overall long period of time, he said, this is the one, this is the one we want, even though they were all the same cross.

They cut down the rest of them and kept that tree.

Robert Brill: Wow.

Kathryn Grandy: She’s still stands today. Overlooking the mighty Columbia river in Washington state. It’s the mother tree, which is kind of unusual to have a mother tree, but we have her and we commemorated her and they’re she’ll sit protected and in that place. And so that.

You know, really was, you know, it’s like you as siblings or me with siblings, you know, we all have the same, like I have siblings, same parents, but you know, I don’t get colds as often as my brother or my eyes are blue and his or Brown, you know, so it’s, it’s the natural, mixture cross of that, that pollen and seeing that brought that tree  the life. We are creating an animated film on classic breeding to really explain the difference to consumers because there is a lot of confusion about that.

Robert Brill: That’s amazing. I had no idea what goes into something like this. This is fascinating stuff.

Kathryn Grandy: Our company is a fully integrated vertically integrated company from orchards to nurseries test orchards, you know, commercialization.

And we realized that the demand for this train was so great that we needed to form some partnerships. And we partnered with the Northwest nursery improvement association, our Institute, and licensed, licensed a lot of other nurseries in Washington to help us grow the trees because growers were so excited about the first Washington Apple and everything they had seen in test orchards.

So. It’s it’s been quite an amazing project.

Robert Brill: So, basically your partners are accessing the same. I don’t know the words, pollination seeds, combination.

Kathryn Grandy: They’re plant materials. So they’re actually getting, I mean, we’re growing trees.

Robert Brill: Wow.

Kathryn Grandy: You know, every tree is licensed and, you know, every grower that buys trees, is licensed, you know, actually signing a license agreement and every step of the way there’s a license.

So, you know, the warehouses that growers take their fruit to are licensed, the sales companies are licensed, so it’s to manage the process and the quality. And we also have a team of people working on, quality standards. So we work with our growers and say, you know, we co-developed what the standards should be, because we want that experience when a consumer buys that.

We want it to be the best possible experience.

Robert Brill: Wow.

Kathryn Grandy: And, you know, we’re, we’re a brand new fruit, so I mean, it’s made by mother nature. So, you know, we’re going to have our, our misses at times, but overall we really delivered a great product this year.

Robert Brill: Congratulations. This is fascinating. I had no idea what goes into making an Apple brand.

That’s incredible.

Kathryn Grandy: Well, we have some amazing graphics that if you look at, Cosmic Crisp that, you know, we’re working with MacDill and associates out of Soquel, California on packaging design and branding and. Yeah, it’s exciting. And it’s, it’s very different from what other brands look like. And it’s very much focused that consumers and trying to provide them the full experience.

Robert Brill: Wow. That’s really nice. Nice website too.

Alright. Kathryn Grandy, director of Marketing and Operations at Proprietary Variety Management. Thanks for being with us.

Kathryn Grandy: Thank you for having me.

Robert Brill: Thank you for listening to this episode of the LA business podcast. If you like what we’re doing on this podcast, please consider subscribing on Apple or Google.

Play, leaving a five star review and sharing with your friends. If you have any questions, comments, or recommendations for a guest you’d like to hear on this podcast, please email me Robert at Thank you. Have a fantastic day.

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