Questions that are rarely asked

by on April 20, 2010 at 12:15 pm in Economics, Food and Drink | Permalink

Why is it that nobody’s marketing broccoli and bananas? This stuff is sold in stores, in exchange for money. Presumably there are for-profit enterprises out there with a vested interest in selling more.

That's from Matt Yglesias.  I suspect the core reason is the absence of branding.  "Got Milk?" only gets you so far.  Most promotional campaigns ("green, and really good for you") will benefit all broccoli sellers, rather than any particular brand of broccoli, plus the profit margin on broccoli probably isn't so high anyway.  (By the way, "Got Milk?" has statist origins.)

Here's one broccoli commercial, it's — dare I say — really stupid yet it is #1 on YouTube for "broccoli commercial."  Here is Bill Cosby's "tribute to broccoli" — it remains unaired.  If you watch it through to the end, you'll see it's actually a Jell-O commercial.

You could spend quite a bit of time watching ineffective broccoli promotions on the internet.  At least this one appeals to some Hansonian impulses. 

1 Jody April 20, 2010 at 12:18 pm

Chiquita ( might be surprised to hear that no one is marketing bananas.

2 Greg Ransom April 20, 2010 at 12:25 pm

The distaste for broccoli has a genetic basis (do a google search) — a distaste that marketing can’t change.

So there are limits to the market for broccoli that advertising can’t cure. Perhaps something broccoli growers know.

3 coyote April 20, 2010 at 12:38 pm

How young are you guys? I can still remember the Chiquita banana commercial from when I was young. Not sure why we don’t have the same adverts today.

4 mattmc April 20, 2010 at 12:40 pm

Popeye was an approach to leafy green product placement before that was a commonplace occurrence.

5 Floccina April 20, 2010 at 12:43 pm

Nobody’s marketing broccoli and bananas and yet they sell very well.
Not much marketing of gasoline lately either just the occasional Chevron add for Techron.
Thank God for KO else who would fund TV shows.
Hersey did not do much advertising for years.
Somethings we just buy.
If you consider all the breath spent telling us to eat things like broccoli and bananas because they are health, though there is little evidence that it is more healthy than junk food, one could say that they are heavily marketed.
BTW I love broccoli. Especially in Sicilian style broccoli and macaroni like my Sicilian mom and Grandma used to make. I also love bananas along with almost all fruits.

6 Bill April 20, 2010 at 12:45 pm

Actually, you raise an interesting problem of collective action with your brocoli, but not your banana example.

Brocolli farmers are weak, dumb and scattered (lawyer speak for none of them are big enough) so that if one of them advertised “broccoli is good for you” that the other broccoli growers wouldn’t be able to free ride on the pronouncement.

Consequently, no advertising.

But, aha, there can actually be broccoli advertising (just as there is Got Milk advertising) if the broccoli farmers vote in a federal marketing order to assess for advertising, as they did with milk. Now every broccoli farmer pays for advertising, shifting the demand curve, at least until the cauliflower growers hear about it.

There is an additional sidelight here as well: some farmers object to this assessment as forced commercial speech and they want out of it. Such are the problems of collective goods. If its not one thing, its another.

7 FXKLM April 20, 2010 at 12:52 pm

Matt could have avoided a lot of confusion on my part if he had said “broccoli or bananas” instead of “broccoli and bananas.” I had to read that quote five times before I realized what he meant. I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to eat broccoli with bananas.

8 Hillary April 20, 2010 at 1:00 pm

The only produce ads I see are for Bushel Boy Tomatoes. Their branding is mostly about being local (in MN) although they could probably do a good campaign about their labor practices being better than the industry. If they were selling tomatoes in general instead of local hydroponic tomatoes it wouldn’t make sense to advertise.

9 matt April 20, 2010 at 1:09 pm

the reason this question is rarely asked is because it’s not worth asking.

10 nelsonal April 20, 2010 at 1:15 pm

I suspect the answer is that broccoli doesn’t have high barriers to import and all or almost all bananas are imported. You see ads for products that are produced in the US either by large producers (sugar orange juice) or by national associations (beef, milk) where barriers to import are high.

11 Trevor H April 20, 2010 at 1:18 pm

I think you and the other commenters have a good sense for why there is no mass market advertising for most kinds of produce. Marketing is much more than advertising. I’m speculating, but I assume there is a fair amount of marketing done by broccoli growers and distributors it’s just targeted at the buyers that really matter – the next step in the supply chain up to the retail grocers. I would assume differentiators are things like reliability or flexibility of supply and shelf life guarantees. Maybe there is some advertising in trade rags and conference booths, but most of their marketing dollars are probably spent visiting and entertaining buyers.

12 Arun April 20, 2010 at 1:21 pm

AT&T spent $1.9 billion on advertising last year, and Verizon spent $2.2 billion.

So they are not selling commodities?

13 Consumer April 20, 2010 at 1:38 pm

My take is that everybody knows bananas taste good and broccoli tastes like sh*t. What is there to market ;-))

14 Brandon April 20, 2010 at 1:47 pm

In Canada, broccoli is marketed like other food commodities. Check out

15 mb April 20, 2010 at 2:50 pm

Cosby one is a fake. “And suddenly your child loves cock”?

16 m April 20, 2010 at 2:53 pm

@Arun: I think they’re close to being commodities but the carriers are working hard to avoid that by differentiating themselves on network coverage (at the moment).

I think, eventually, the competition on features will go away and then it will be a commodity.

Unless one of them comes up with some new innovation.

17 Simon Lyall April 20, 2010 at 4:18 pm

Recently a company/group imported some fairtrade bananas into New Zealand so they are promoting them. But I guess they have a differentiated produce:

18 doug heady April 20, 2010 at 7:01 pm

The market is saturated. It’s not something that needs advertisement. We (the U.S.) only buys brocolli from basically two places – California and Guatamala. Check out a book called “Broccoli and Desire” for the system from farming to purchasing in our stores.

19 RH April 21, 2010 at 7:10 am
20 londenio April 21, 2010 at 10:09 am

Option 1: you advertise a commoditized category. Cases:
(a) You are an association of producers. This is what happened with Milk first in California, then in the whole US. Apples have been advertised by the growers in Argentina, Potatoes in Switzerland, etc. And this has nothing to do with branding the commodity for export markets (e.g. New Zealand lamb, Colombian coffee, etc.).
(b) You are the market leader, or have a large proportion of the sales. Smaller companies could free ride, but so what.

Option 2: You design a brand for your commodity and advertise it. Cases:
(a) You increase awareness for your brand and then consumers buy what they know (e.g. Chiquita banana).
(b) You identify a unique benefit of the product and differentiate your commoditized product along that dimension. This could be functional (e.g. your broccoli has more vitamins than other broccolis) or “psychological” (e.g. your broccoli is hand-picked, or fair-trade or organic, or FUN!).

21 zayıflama April 22, 2010 at 8:22 am

is a Bayesian process. Suppose your samples are perfectly consistent, from a universe of perfect consistency. If you start with an a priori estimate of the universe which is lower than the actual universe, then adjust your estimate each time your samplefdgdfgdfgdffdgdf

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