Baby Carrots: The Next Snack Food?

Ex-Coke exec creates online ads with tagline, 'Eat 'em like junk food.'

ByABC News
February 7, 2012, 5:50 PM

Feb. 7, 2012— -- "Indulge the most tasteful of your tastebuds," says a female voice over an image of a sexy woman in a black shift.

"Baby carrots, baby," adds a Barry White soundalike.

No, it's not something from The Onion or The Daily Show. It's an ad for carrots. Baby carrots. The tagline: "Eat 'em like junk food."

The man behind the ad, one of several in a campaign viewable on Youtube, is Jeff Dunn, CEO of Bolthouse Farms.

"We took some of the lessons of junk food and we kind of spun them," Dunn said in an interview with ABC News correspondent David Wright.

Dunn imagines a future where baby carrots are as popular as potato chips.

"We said, we've got a perfect snack," Dunn said. "Thirty-five calories. Affordable. Great health. Tastes great. But people aren't eating as much of them as we'd like. So what do we do?"

"We wrapped this thing in the same lessons as junk food marketing," Dunn continued. "Because junk and fast-food marketing has done a tremendous job of creating interest, innovation and energy around their products. So why can't we bring that same energy to something that's good for you?"

Dunn knows a thing or two about junk food marketing. Before he took over at Bolthouse Farms, he spent 20 years as a top marketing executive at Coca Cola.

When asked if his former colleagues might scoff at his carrot campaign, Dunn said, "No, I don't think so. I think we've gotten enough traction on this thing."

The company test-marketed this new approach to carrots in Cincinnati and Syracuse last year, specifically aiming the message at kids, not moms, by coming up with online content with themes such as vampires and extreme sports.

In both cities, there was double-digit growth in baby carrot sales.

If they had the same success nationwide, there would not be enough carrots to meet the demand. Bolthouse Farms and its rival, Grimmway, supply 96% of the nation's carrots. The two companies grow their carrots across the street from each other outside Bakersfield, Calif.

Baby carrots are not genetically engineered. "We breed them to be tiny," said Bryan Reese, chief marketing and innovation officer at Bolthouse. "It takes years and years. We try to breed them so that they grow long in uniformed diameter. And then we cut them up and peel them."

Next on the plate: flavoring. Bolthouse thinks flavorings can do for the carrot what they did for the potato.

Potato chips were selling just fine, with steady sales, year after year. Then companies introduced barbecue, sour cream and onion, salt and vinegar, and potato chip sales took off.

Other foods, like apples, may follow suit, Dunn said: "We've had … a lot of interest from other producers across a whole range of commodities. They're all watching what we do, because from their standpoint, they'd all like to sell more of what they grow."