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Why Near East Chose Seattle for its First Vehicle Tour

By Mar 22, 2011

Depending on where in the U.S. you live, you may or may not know what couscous is. The Near East brand, a marketer of couscous and other specialty side dishes, is about to change that by introducing its first mobile sampling tour. The first decision, of course, was where to tour.

To determine that, a couple facts came into play.

1. The brand has strong sales in the Northeast, but not on the West Coast.

2. An urban center would be best to maximize sampling.

3. IRI grocery-scan data led to Seattle, where specialty grain products sold well, but not Near East specialty grains.

4. A recent National Restaurant Association survey reported that food trucks were a top trend this year.

5. “The Seattle Times” wrote that more than 300 food trucks roam its streets (not always offering free food), thus consumers in that area would be open to the concept of mobile sampling.

6. Seattleites, who live in a foodie city with lots of innovative restaurants, are a solid demographic for Near East flavors of couscous.

“We’re looking for the shortcut chef,” E. G. Fishburne, the senior brand manager for Near East, said. “It’s women who have busy lifestyles who want food to provide a balance of taste and healthfulness. They want an easy way to make dinner more special.”

So Seattle it is, with the Near East Couscous Caravan making its first stop tomorrow starting at about 11 am for four hours. Four-ounce cups of couscous with chicken or vegetables will be served up, all prepared on board, along with coupons and recipes. The brand team worked with sales to identify key locations, which include retailers, high-pedestrian traffic areas and weekend festivals.

In Seattle, retail distribution of Near East products is high, but household penetration is low so the team coordinated with each retail location for permitting and approval to conduct the sampling, as well as supplying all retail locations with in-store promotional materials that include at-shelf recipes and coupon tear pads, Fishburne said.

The local nature of the program also makes the most out of the national movement to connect brands to local suppliers by offering samples inspired by Seattle neighborhoods and by purchasing local ingredients. Local chef, Jason Wilson of Crush Restaurant, and a 2010 Northwest James Beard Award Winner, developed the recipes and others posted online that feature local ingredients such as Washington state apples, Walla Walla onions and Pacific albacore tuna.

The event stops are being promoted on Facebook and Twitter @NearEastDish, Facebook ads targeting the Seattle market and interviews and appearances by Chef Wilson. TV spots do not relay tour information, but do share recipes appearing in store on the tear pads.

To further ingratiate itself with the locals, Seattleites learn that they can also help out Northwest Harvest, a statewide hunger relief agency. Through the end of the tour, May 15, for every tweet to @NearEastDish with #CouscousCaravan, Near East will donate a box of couscous—up to 10,000 total boxes— to the organization. Facebook users who “like” the Near East Dish, then post a photo of the Couscous Caravan and tag Near East Dish in it, will trigger a two-box donation.

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