Fowler raisin company, Disney team up to promote healthy snack

National Raisin Co. in Fowler is hoping to take advantage of a new emphasis by Walt Disney Co. on healthier foods and will soon sell snack packs that showcase such characters as Mickey Mouse, Lilo & Stitch, Nemo and the Pirates of the Caribbean.

The specially packaged fruit will be sold in grocery stores nationwide, said Jane Asmar, director of corporate accounts for the family-run company and daughter of one of its three founders, Krikor Bedrosian.

Asmar said Disney representatives approached National during a trade show in Chicago in late 2005, showing an interest in pairing Disney images with healthful snacks.

In exchange, National pays a licensing fee. Neither Asmar nor Disney representatives would state the cost or length of the licensing agreement.

"Disney was 'walking the show' and approached me and inquired about putting together a licensing agreement," said David Joseph, national sales manager for the Fowler packinghouse. "We're looking to sell 8% to 10% of our product in this way. It helps that this is geared specifically to children."

At the same time, Asmar pointed out, sales can be pinpointed to more specific demographic groups depending on the characters on the box. "Pirates appeal to boys 5 to 8," she said. "Nemo is more popular with younger children. And tweens — those that are 9 to 12 — like characters from 'High School Musical,' a Disney Channel movie."

Disney representatives visited National in March 2006, followed by a National visit to Disney offices. "From that point we decided it was a good fit for both companies," Asmar said.

Last October, Walt Disney Co. announced new guidelines governing foods it sells at its amusement parks and those that it licenses for promotion.

Disney likenesses appear on hundreds of products, said Lance R. Gatewood, vice president for food, health, beauty and pets for Disney. Those categories include products licensed by the company and range from Mickey-Mouse-shaped hamburger patties to character-shaped cheese slices.

Gatewood said the goal is to have at least 80% of licensed food products fit the Disney guidelines, which set limits on calories, fat, saturated fat and sugar.

"We're on track to meet or exceed that objective by the end of this year," he said.

National's Disney line includes 1.25-ounce packs of raisins and cranberries and a tropical mix of dried apricots, pineapple and papaya. It also includes half-ounce cartons of raisins and 5-ounce bags of apples and cranberries and a fruit-and-nut mix.

National hired a public relations and advertising firm, Tailford Mitchell in Toledo, Ohio, to do the graphics for the new packages. Disney had provided a list of agencies their licensees had used, Asmar said, and National chose Tailford Mitchell because of its graphics expertise.

Alex Rumman, an account executive with Tailford Mitchell, said the company specializes in package design. She said the company has a number of other clients who license with Disney, but National is the only California company.

Rumman visited the Fowler raisin packer and termed National "a wonderful family operation."

Gatewood said many fresh food products are licensed through Imagination Farms, a company based in Indianapolis. A distinction is that the producers of those products are not identified on the packaging. National Raisins is.

Another Valley raisin packer, Chooljian Brothers in Sanger, has a link to Nickelodeon through Philadelphia-based Frankford Foods.

Although the Chooljian name does not go on the box, the company's raisins go into boxes that feature such luminaries as SpongeBob SquarePants and Dora the Explorer.

Beth Wierzbicki, director of marketing for Frankford Foods, said the Cravin' Raisins packages are sold in Wal-Mart stores nationally, and it's expected distribution will expand to other retailers over the next 12 months.

The reporter can be reached at or (559) 441-6364.

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