Keeping Pom Wonderful

If it's magenta, comes in an elegant curvy bottle, and costs $4.99 a pint, it's Pom Wonderful brand pomegranate juice. Lynda Resnick, whose corporation Roll International owns pomegranate, almond, pistachio, and clementine orchards encompassing 14 million trees, launched the brand in 2002.

Former co-owner of collectibles-maker the Franklin Mint and now vice-chair and co-owner (with her husband, Stewart Resnick), of Roll International, Resnick brought the exotic pomegranate to the world stage with her marketing campaign. She commissioned $25 million in research on the health benefits of pure pomegranate juice. Soon the American Journal of Cardiology was reporting a relationship between daily intake of pomegranate juice and improved blood flow in heart patients. Consumer magazines wrote about the antioxidant benefits of pomegranates. It's been reported to slow prostate cancer and help counteract erectile dysfunction.

By 2004, chichi bars were serving Pomtinis, restaurants were offering pomegranate lemonade, and beauty-conscious women and men were eating pomegranates to counteract skin-damaging free radicals. It was all good for Los Angeles-based Roll International, which also owns Fiji brand bottled water and sells whole pomegranates (as produce) all over the world. The company earned $165 million in revenue in 2007 and expects to do that well or better in 2008.

But where does the recession fit into Pom Wonderful's marketing plan? BusinessWeek's Rebecca Reisner recently talked to Resnick, co-author of Rubies in the Orchard: How to Uncover the Hidden Gems in Your Business (Doubleday 2009), about her strategy to maintain a Rolls Royce brand in a Ford Escort economy.

How do you think the financial crisis is affecting U.S. consumer spending?

We as Americans have overextended ourselves until credit lines are broken. People are depressed about it. Even if you have the money for a new dress and shoes, you feel guilty about it. Instead of going to Barney's, you go to a museum to feed your soul.

Do you really expect people to buy a juice drink that costs as much as $4.99 for 16 ounces at a time when they're cutting their personal budgets? [Note: After the interview, I noticed pint-size bottles of Pom Wonderful marked $6 at Grand Central Station, but everything is at a premium there.]

People are looking for value now. They are going to buy things that are important in their lives. I'm so glad I'm in the food business. If I was still selling Scarlett O'Hara dolls, that would be a problem. When people know that drinking eight ounces of pomegranate juice has been shown to reduce cancer, they are going to buy it.

Aren't there less expensive brands of pomegranate juice consumers can choose?

There are a lot of phony pomegranate juices out there. Some of them have only 2% pomegranate juice. They have high-fructose corn syrup and pear or grape juice. They feed off our success by putting a big pomegranate on the label.

How do your protect your brand against the imitators?

We went to court over a brand called Purely Juice. They had to pay us or stop making juice. They stopped making phony juice. We make sure people know Pom Wonderful has 100% pomegranate juice. We grow the pomegranates in our own orchards, pick them by hand, and juice them in our own factories. We know where that pomegranate has been from seedling to packaging.

So how do you get the message about the health benefits out?

We already have signs up all over. You see a bottle with a noose around its neck, and it says, "Cheat Death." In our new campaign we show Pom Wonderful as a superhero that saves the world. We say that you may not have as much money, but you can't afford to be sick. We do print ads and a lot of online ads. And lots of billboards, because the only way to miss a billboard is to drive with your eyes closed.

Any plans to sell Pom Wonderful for less?

We're getting into mass retailers. Wal-Mart (WMT) sells our juice for $9.99 for 48 ounces. Our fruit is sold in Costco (COST).

How did you attain the cachet you have now?

Our bottle is so distinctive. The bottle becomes the personality of the brand because it's so unusual. We have ads with pearls around the neck of the bottle, and it says "Juice Couture." We do about 2,500 events a year. We put our water [Fiji] and Pom in people's hands at events like Fashion Week in New York City and Los Angeles. We're in the Aspen Food & Wine Classic festivals and City Meals on Wheels. We do gallery openings.

Any other ways you're hedging your bets for the recession?

We're already the largest seller of pistachios and almonds in the world. Our pomegranates [the whole fruits] are sold in 55 countries, which is a great hedge against stagnation and recession. There's always someplace where people have money. We're in China and Russia and India. Now Pom Wonderful is sold in the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, and Korea.

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