There is an obvious fit between fresh produce and the diets of elite sportsmen and women. But how can you use that link to further your produce business, increase consumption and better the health of the nation? As we gear up to enter an Olympic year in 2016, Produce Business UK looks at some of the opportunities open to produce businesses and budding sports stars alike
It may come as a surprise to many, but Team GB, which is run by the UK’s national Olympic committee – the British Olympic Association (BOA) – receives no funding from government. “A vast amount of the financial backing for the country’s Olympic squad comes from patrons,” a spokesman for Team GB explains.
“Any support is good support and it can make a difference between a fourth-place finish and a bronze medal. We can help businesses that want to get involved and back athletes. We work closely with some of the athletes’ agents and we can help by putting people in touch with sports’ individual governing bodies – there are 35 Olympic sports and each has its own governing body and all are members of the BOA. Or people may just want to support an athlete who is local to them and we can help with that too.”
Sports For Schools seeks produce partners
Another organisation eager to gain the support of fresh produce partners is Sports for Schools (SFS), a social enterprise that brings GB, Olympic and Paralympic athletes into primary schools to run events that engage and inspire kids to take up more sport and exercise, and lead healthy lives.
SFS also helps to fund elite athletes with their training and/or transition to a new career, according to SFS managing director Michael Ledzion. “Events are sponsored in order to raise money for PE equipment for the school, and to fund the scheme,” he notes.
“To date the scheme has raised over £1.75 million for PE equipment for schools, and inspired more than 1m children. We visit around 1,300 schools annually, which works out at 350,000 inspired children each year and that number has tripled in the past two years.”
Now SFS wants to engage with the fresh produce sector to tie together healthy eating and the importance of exercise, and the organisation is willing to team up athletes with companies in their local area.
“Our mission is to put physical health in children on a par with mental health and academic excellence,” says Ledzion.
“We are guided by our SFS principles: to do our bit to encourage children to live a healthy life, to inspire, challenge and excite children into more sport, to encourage ‘I can’t’ to become ‘I can’, to create worthwhile and well-rewarded careers, and to do the right thing.
“We’d like to connect suppliers of fresh fruit and vegetables with children and their families to encourage healthy lifestyles.
“It would be a great message to take into schools; the promotion of 5-A-Day with ideas of how they can achieve this. The athlete could be ‘sponsored’ with messaging on branded clothing, they could have a pop-up banner and distribute fruit to children taking part. There could be a voucher to take home to parents or branding on school literature and sponsorship forms or sponsorship donation pages.”
And, of course, there would be much to gain for the athletes themselves. “All our athletes eat huge amounts of fruit and vegetables so providing them with fruit and veg on a regular basis would be fantastic,” he adds.
Fresh produce companies would also have access to an important potential market. “For companies, they would get to reinforce a “get active” message to a key audience of primary school children and their families, encourage them to take part and to fundraise for the school in order to purchase sports equipment,” says Ledzion.
“SFS can provide access to the families of 350,000 children each year through our athlete events and these activities connect with children and their families in ways that will be remembered way into adulthood. One mother wrote to us recently to say: ‘Great experience my son had at school today thanks to you! He’s tried to do press ups the whole way home…a 15-minute walk!’”
Follow BanaBay’s lead
UK-based supplier of Ecuadorian bananas and tropical produce BanaBay has teamed with one of the SFS athletes, British high-jumper Mike Edwards, and his is the first image you see on the company’s website.
Briony Dunmore, global marketing executive at BanaBay, takes up the story: “Mike contacted us last summer to say he was training for the Olympics in 2016, eats eight bananas a day and [asked] would we like to sponsor him,” she explains.
“To begin with we were just giving him bananas that he would pick up from Birmingham Wholesale Market but since then we have signed a 24-month contract with Mike as a brand ambassador that is co-dependent on how well he does in winning medals at competitions leading up to the Olympics.”
The deal still sees Birmingham-based Birchfield Harrier Edwards go down to the local wholesale market regularly for his boxes of bananas, but the regular funding goes towards his physio and training expenses and the agreement allows BanaBay to use Edwards’ image. In turn, Edwards makes video blogs about his training for the company’s website and he goes into schools to talk about eating healthily where he showcases BanaBay’s products.
“When choosing a brand ambassador it is important that that person is representative of our brand values,” explains Dunmore. “Mike has the determination and motivation to be an Olympic athlete and those are values we want people to associate with BanaBay too.”
Edwards, whose best jump at 2.25m is just 4cm off the qualifying height set by IAAF for Rio 2016, says it was not just a case of eating a lot of bananas that led him to BanaBay. “I wanted to take full command of my own nutrition; figuring out how much I was eating and fine tune diet my to improve my performance,” he explains.
“Bananas was one of my go-to foods and I could see BanaBay had a presence with them. It’s a new company, but, like me, they do not underestimate their potential and believe that where they are now is only temporary. It is a great partnership.”
Like many of the 60-odd athletes involved with SFS, Edwards finds the school visits, which amount to flexible, paid work they can fit around their schedules, very rewarding. The high jumper was stunned to see a group of the youngsters he had talked to at a school just a few days earlier turn out one weekend to cheer him on to win silver at the British Athletics Championships.
Aldi blazes a trail
One of the most high-profile patrons of Team GB for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games is discount retailer Aldi, which is supporting the whole team in the build up to the games as part of an integrated 18-month partnership deal that places British produce at its core.
The retailer is promoting the partnership across its range of fresh produce, including its market-leading Super 6 promotion, which sees six different pieces of fresh fruit and vegetables offered at cut-down prices every fortnight.
Aldi is offering every Team GB member £25 of vouchers a month to spend in-store and estimates these could be cashed in for 81,395 bunches of bananas, 269,230 carrots, 117,966 apples, 362,068 packets of baby plum tomatoes or the same number of cucumbers.
Bill Sweeney, CEO of the BOA explains: “The support of Aldi is vital in ensuring that our athletes heading to Rio are as best prepared for the games as they can be, and feel a great wave of support knowing that the nation is with them, inspiring them to achieve great performances at Rio 2016.”
In addition, Aldi has chosen six aspiring Olympic athletes as the faces of the campaign and they are appearing in national press advertising to promote the Super 6 offer.
The six athletes are: Nicola Adams, Liam Phillips, Samantha Murray, Jack Laugher, Jade Jones and Dan Purvis, who represent boxing, BMX cycling, modern pentathlon, diving, taekwondo and gymnastics respectively.
The retailer is also supporting the BOA and Get Set, the BOA’s schools education programme, with Get Set to Eat Fresh. The initiative will champion healthy eating among 25,000 schools nationwide, providing pupils with all the materials they need to learn about nutritious foods.
Furthermore, Aldi has launched an online TV platform, The Taste Kitchen, to share the healthy, affordable diets of its six athlete ambassadors and to demonstrate how everyone can eat like an athlete to improve their mental and physical health.
The retailer’s UK managing director Tony Baines says: “Our partnership with Team GB will see us championing fresh, Great British produce and meat, which is readily available and affordable to support people in living healthy lifestyles.”
Other activity involves Aldi supporting Team GB’s Homegrown Heroes initiative, which aims to encourage the public to get behind their local Olympic hopefuls as they train hard for the chance to represent Team GB at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. The programme will enable the public to search via an online platform for their local Homegrown Hero, leave a message of support and find out more about their favourite things to eat.
While the scale of Aldi’s support is not something within the reach of most companies in the fresh produce sector, there are certainly many other ways for brands and smaller companies to get involved.
The Olympics and Paralympics only come round once every four years and although there is plenty else going on in sport that produce companies can link up with, the buzz around the world’s greatest multi-sport event is like no other. The window of opportunity for 2016 is not open for much longer. Don’t miss out!
Anyone wishing to support Team GB or Sports for Schools, can contact us at [email protected]