Fresh split crops up at Jolly Green Giant

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The Independent Online
HAS Grand Metropolitan suddenly discovered an dollars 18bn market on its doorstep? Can its Green Giant brand 'explode' into fresh produce? Is America ready for 'truly fresh, microbiologically safe, virtually pesticide-free' bi- colour sweet corn?

Yes, according to a press release from Jeff Sholl, the 43-year-old vice- president and business manager in charge of Green Giant Fresh. 'We can pick the cream of the crop]' he enthused. 'We can select the best and market the best]'

Not exactly, according to his bosses at Pillsbury, Green Giant's Minneapolis-based parent.

While it is true that Green Giant is experimenting with adding its brand name to a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, 'we're constantly probing for fruitful new growth areas, if you'll forgive the pun,' Terry Thompson, a Pillsbury spokesman, said. 'We don't want to make of it more than it is.'

Mr Sholl's announcement, however, speaks confidently about 'capturing 10 to 15 per cent of the enormous dollars 18bn fresh produce category'. Pillsbury says it might eventually pick up that sort of market share but only for the half- dozen foods it is testing - not dollars 1.8bn-dollars 2.7bn worth of new sales.

'To call this a product roll-out would be very misleading,' Mr Thompson said in Minneapolis. 'It is the very early days of a distribution partnership.'

What Green Giant - faced with flat demand for its tinned and frozen vegetables - has done is sign an agreement with a large grower that will allow it to test the market for branded fresh corn, celery, sweet potatoes, apples, pears and oranges.

The company has been experimenting with branded potatoes and asparagus for three years and recently began testing prepared salads in California.

'This is no big surprise,' one food industry analyst said. 'They've been trying ways to support their franchise for some time.'

Grand Met, for its part, appears to have been caught off-guard by Mr Sholl's announcement, which found its way into the business pages of yesterday's New York Times, among others. 'I'm afraid this was the product of a PR agency and a few managers,' one Pillsbury executive said.

Calls to Mr Sholl yesterday were being referred to Mr Thompson.