I remember as a kid in the 1950s looking forward to my mom opening up a can of Del Monte fruit cup for dessert every Thursday night (there was nothing as good as picking out the grapes from the fruit cocktail). Some nights it was Del Monte brand half peaches or canned peas for dinner. In the ’50s and early ’60s canned fruit and vegetables were the food of choice and Del Monte was the most favored brand. As one of my colleagues said, “I would not have eaten Libby’s even though they had a much better jingle.”
I have not given a thought to Del Monte for years and years—I never eat canned food any more. Driving home one day last week, I heard a report about Del Monte settling a lawsuit with Barclays. And yeah, I was surprised to find out that they are still in existence.
How can a brand virtually disappear? I did a very unscientific study of 20 people of varying ages on the Del Monte brand. I asked them what products Del Monte produces and if there was any emotional reaction to the name. Almost everyone older than 45 knew the brand and had fond recollections of eating Del Monte canned food. The company was defined as “wholesome,” “family,” and “quality.” The age group from 35-45 knew the name, and most could only identify the fact that Del Monte made some kind of food product. A few said that they would never buy their products since they never buy canned foods. The adjectives used were less positive since the association with “canned” was a negative with this group. The last group 25-35 had no idea what Del Monte produces. For them the brand simply did not exist. Looking at the Del Monte website, I was surprised to find out that in addition to their canned food line, they have a large product line that geared to pets. All of these sub-brands are marketed independently and not under the Del Monte name… which I think is probably a very good thing. After all, who wants to buy canned fruit cocktail from the same group that produced canned cat food?
The Del Monte brand has become less relevant as our tastes in food have changed. In the ’50s and ’60s, convenience was king, it was still hard to ship fresh food globally, so the produce you found at the stores had to be in season. You could not get peaches from Chile in the dead of winter, so Del Monte’s canned peaches became a good substitute during the winter months. As fresh fruit and vegetables became more available and as questions regarding preservatives more numerous, canned fruits and vegetables lost favor and a mighty brand started to wane.
Strong brand strategies have to change and evolve. While Del Monte has developed a line of fresh fruit cups and puts their name on fresh fruit such as bananas, one wonders if it is too little too late. Their brand can not escape the association with “canned” products. And so it is no surprise that the corporate giant is on the sales block.