Business & Real Estate

Sacramento’s Blue Diamond bets on Rio Olympics

Sacramento’s Blue Diamond Growers is using the Rio Olympics for its largest marketing campaign this year.
Sacramento’s Blue Diamond Growers is using the Rio Olympics for its largest marketing campaign this year. Blue Diamond Growers

Alone among Sacramento companies, Blue Diamond Growers is betting big on the Summer Olympics, using the Rio de Janeiro Games as the platform for a major marketing effort.

The big almond cooperative is peddling its products with an aggressive blend of national TV advertising and digital media campaigns in what the company said is the largest marketing push it will make all year. The Olympics promotion comes as Blue Diamond and others in the California almond industry adjust to a significant decline in prices since last summer, following a multi-year boom.

Blue Diamond is sponsoring the U.S. volleyball and swim teams. Two medalists from the United States, beach volleyballer Kerri Walsh Jennings and swimmer Matt Grevers, have signed on as Blue Diamond “brand ambassadors” in promotional spots seen on YouTube and elsewhere. Jennings has been tweeting about Blue Diamond’s Almond Breeze milk product to her 171,000 followers.

Despite disappointing broadcast TV ratings, Blue Diamond spokeswoman Alicia Rockwell said the company is pleased with the exposure it’s getting on Twitter, Facebook and other forms of digital media.

“Broadcast numbers aren’t the indicator they once were,” Rockwell said.

This isn’t Blue Diamond’s first marketing campaign tied to the Olympics. It ran ads on the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, where it was the official snack sponsor of the U.S. ski and snowboarding teams. The effort this summer surpasses the 2014 campaign, Rockwell said, although she declined to provide figures on the amount Blue Diamond is spending.

“It’s a great fit,” Rockwell said of the Olympics. The relationship dovetails with Blue Diamond’s efforts to promote almonds as a healthful snack, she said.

Olympics audiences “aspire to a natural lifestyle,” she said.

Blue Diamond’s campaign comes as the almond industry deals with financial and political headwinds connected to the drought. Soaring almond prices in recent years prompted California farmers to devote thousands of acres to new almond orchards. Then, as water supplies tightened, almond farmers came under intense criticism because their trees can’t be fallowed.

Complicating matters, almond prices have declined markedly in the past year. A pound of almonds that sold for nearly $5 last year is now in the $2.80 range.

Nonetheless, prices have stabilized in the past few months and the industry remains strong. “The majority of the industry is still very profitable at prices today,” said economist Vernon Crowder, a senior vice president at agricultural lender Rabobank.

Blue Diamond rode the almond boom to record sales, generating $1.65 billion in revenue in the fiscal year that ended last Aug. 28. Just three years earlier its sales totaled $1 billion.

The company, which is owned by its member farmers, only reports financial results once a year. Rockwell declined to provide a preview on how Blue Diamond is doing in the current fiscal year.

Dale Kasler: 916-321-1066, @dakasler