David Hoppe

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:: That Red Gold TV spot

by David Hoppe

Have you seen the new Red Gold commercial yet?

Shot with light-catching yellows, greens and reds, subtly echoing the color scheme found on Red Gold’s brightly polished, retro-style labels, the ad proclaims, “Food brings people together.”

The food, of course, is anything involving Red Gold’s stock-in-trade, tomatoes.

It’s easy to like the new ad (you can check it out on Red Gold’s website:http://www.redgoldtomatoes.com/home). It lyrically portrays Red Gold’s tomato products as wholesome food, grown by handsome people, in a place that’s rainwater pure.

This, of course, begs fair questions having to do with the everyday working conditions of farm workers, many of whom may be immigrants, not to mention the actual state of our soil and water.

But let’s put such questions aside for now and acknowledge that it’s about time an Indiana food producer indulged in the kind of mythmaking this ad exemplifies. This is, after all, the way local pride of place is constructed. And, when it comes to food, Indiana has reason to strut its stuff.

The only trouble is: the Red Gold ad doesn’t mention Indiana. Not once.

“Grown by families, enjoyed by families,” the ad says. This evidently refers to the 50 farms in Indiana, Ohio and Michigan where a large portion of Red Gold’s tomatoes are grown. Okay, so not all the farms are in Indiana. But if you go to the Red Gold website and look at the profiles of five growers presented there, all five come from…Indiana.

This is worth talking about. Indiana (or Midwestern, or, for that matter, Great Lakes, if you prefer) tomatoes can hold their own with any other tomatoes you can name. Italian? Elwood, where Red Gold is located, is practically the same latitude as Tuscany. California? That place is afflicted by drought. And in Florida they raise what they call tomatoes in sand.

But tomatoes grown in those places have imprinted themselves on the public brain as being where great tomatoes come from. Whereas Indiana remains thought of, if at all, as the source for what’s inside the ketchup bottle on some truck stop’s counter.

This is emblematic of the dilemma — and the opportunity — facing Indiana agriculture today. Most of the country (many Hoosiers included) thinks of Indiana as nothing but corn and soybeans. Without, that is, a truly distinctive identity. The truth is otherwise — and Red Gold is part of what makes Indiana’s story more interesting.

Red Gold is a business encompassing four generations, going back to the late 1940’s — a time when tomatoes were hand-picked and local canneries were a common sight in Indiana towns. Today Red Gold employs roughly 1,300 full-time workers and distributes products nationwide; it private labels for chains like Kroger and Walmart. Red Gold’s TV spot is playing now in 15 media markets.

Many farmers rightly complain that consumers don’t know enough about where food comes from. That’s why Red Gold’s ad, pretty as it is, seems a missed opportunity. If the tomatoes are worth bragging about, so is where they’re grown. That story deserves telling.