Sleep has become a prominent health issue in the United States and that’s good news for tart cherry growers. For years, the industry has focused its promotional efforts on the health benefits of tart cherries. Now it’s reaching out to people fighting insomnia.
Sleep problems are such a big deal these days that there’s a hotel in Manhattan that has a sleep program. This fall the cherry industry put on a media event with health and food writers to explain the benefits of tart cherries.
The Today show on NBC picked up the topic. They invited Dr. Carol Ash to offer a few pointers about sleep. Ash runs a sleep clinic in New Jersey.
She wore a bright red dress onto the show. The hosts sat on a bed and on the nightstand were two wine glasses filled with cherry juice and a bowl of dried cherries.
Ash explained that she advises her clients to “go red before bed”. She says drinking one glass of tart cherry juice before bed would quickly bring results.
“If you did it for seven days you’d actually see an increase of 40 minutes of sleep and your ability to stay asleep would increase by six percent,” she said.
The phrase “go red before bed” was developed by the marketing firm Weber Shandwick. The firm manages the cherry industry's promotional campaign. Vice president Micheal Wehman says sleep has become something of a crisis in the U.S.
“If you look at statistics on over-the-counter and prescription sleep aids they’re absolutely through the roof,” he says.
So natural sleep aids are also in demand and research into the sleep benefits of tart cherries has been going on for about eight years. Growers have helped pay for some of it out of their promotional budget.
It has long been known that tart cherries reduce inflammation. That can help someone with arthritis or an athlete recovering from a marathon. Wehman says they are excited to promote sleep benefits because it’s not limited to one group of people. Everyone sleeps.
He says there was a surge of media interest in sleep this year driven by people like Arianna Huffington.
“She believes sleep and flat shoes are two of the most important things that people, specifically women, need to focus on,” says Wehman.
The tart cherry promotional campaign has been going on since growers agreed to pay for it in 2007. Most tarts in the U.S. are grown in Northwest Lower Michigan and the industry is not big enough to pay for national advertisements. The strategy is to get media coverage of cherries.
Wehman made a presentation to growers last week and was proud to show cherries had received more media attention in the past year than all other berry contenders but blueberries. He says that’s a lot of progress in seven years.
“We were typically in fifth place on that chart,” he says.
The biggest driver of cherry media this past year was sleep. This coming year the plan is to focus on flavor. That’s because food trends show American palates are starting to move beyond the sweet and salty and fatty and make room for foods that are sour and bitter.
The new slogan will be, “go tart instead.”