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Welch’s says grape juice is for men now

You’re a red-blooded American man. You’re tough, you work hard, and you don’t have time for Millennial health trends. Your enemy? Oxidizing agents that hurt your health. Your drink? Grape juice.

That’s the narrative set out by Welch’s new ad campaign, which is aimed at Gen X men.

“We’ve been targeting women forever,” said Lesya Lysyj, the company’s US president. The new campaign is “definitely a different approach.”

Welch’s shelf-stable juice sales have dropped more than 5% over the past year, according to Wells Fargo data. The company needed a change.

As the health trend has evolved and accelerated, young and female consumers have started paying more attention to sugar. Fruit juice, once a staple at the breakfast table, has been cast out as a sugary beverage full of empty calories.

Big companies like Coca-Cola (KO) and PepsiCo (PEP) have been able to shift their focus to other beverages. Welch’s, a cooperative owned by grape farmers, can’t pivot away from grapes.

“They have to figure out ways to intrigue consumers and get them to reconsider grape juice,” said Duane Stanford, executive editor of Beverage Digest

So they got creative.

“We looked at the data we had, and we cut it a different way, and found that men were a cohort that we kind of have been ignoring,” said Lysyj. “Stasticially, they looked like a great target to go after, and we hadn’t realized it.”

Welch’s found that 73% of Gen X men drink juice with breakfast and that Welch’s Gen X male customers buy 17 bottles of juice a year, well above the average 10 bottles per year.

Plus, the company discovered that 59% of Gen X men buy most of the groceries for their household. About three-quarters of those men write their own grocery list, according to Welch’s.

Welch’s also learned that more men than women say they like how grapes taste.

Armed with the data, Welch’s devised a plan to advertise to men: Focus on the antioxidant-rich drink’s general health benefits, and remind men that farming is a manly business.

Gen X men think differently about health, said Lysyj. They’re less concerned about sugar than women, but still interested in nutritional benefits. That makes them a perfect audience for Welch’s first message: Grape juice is good for you.

And to give Welch’s a gritty, male-friendly makeover, Welch’s drew inspiration from its farmers.

“Welch’s grape farmers in particular have a really tough job,” said Helene Dick, strategy director for Barton F. Graf, the creative agency that partnered with Welch’s on the campaign.

Farmers have to hand prune their vineyards in harsh weather, she noted. “There’s a side of Welch’s that America hasn’t seen before.”

The result are ads that highlight the physicality of grape production jobs. Men clip grapes, drive trucks and — perhaps unrealistically — get coated in juice as a machine pulverizes the fruit. Meanwhile, the ads playfully highlight the health benefits of Concord grapes.

“The antioxidants in Welch’s Concord grape juice aren’t just antioxidant,” a narrator says in one ad, as a man pours out a pint of grape juice. “Welch’s antioxidants track down those nasty oxidants, find their leader, and beat it to a sniveling oxidant pulp. So they know who’s boss.”

“Our whole campaign is about being tough,” Lysyj said.

The tactic appears to be a major departure for Welch’s. But the company has been experimenting with new uses for grape juice.

Over the summer, Welch’s launched a limited release energy drink, an effort to give “men and younger consumers another reason to think about” grape juice, Stanford said.

Even though the campaign explicitly targets men, Lysyj isn’t worried about alienating women. That’s because when companies advertise to women, men tend not to respond. But women are “more likely to come along,” she said.

Starting this week, Welch’s is running ads on “The Howard Stern Show,” which has a significant female audience, and other radio programs like it, Lysyj noted.

Stanford suggested that the ads could indirectly appeal to women who shop for men, rather than mothers shopping for their children.