For a few years now, several West Coast fruit promotion groups have used federal grant money to promote the nutritional attributes of their produce in Mexico through fictional fruit-themed luchador characters.
Led by the Pear Bureau Northwest, the Milwaukie, Oregon, organization that collectively markets Oregon and Washington pears, the groups culminated the campaign by contracting a real-life star of Mexico’s professional wrestling culture to promote the fruit.
“This was a lot of fun,” said Jeff Correa, international marketing director for the pear bureau, which promotes under the label USA Pears.
The organizations hired Psycho Clown, a luchador enmascarado, or masked professional wrestler, in the Mexican Lucha Libre AAA Worldwide league. Last October, the veteran wrestler-performer, left without venues by the coronavirus pandemic, began creating Instagram videos and photos of himself singing the health praises of fresh fruit.
The luchador promotion program started four years ago when Pear Bureau Northwest served as the primary grantee for a $300,000-per-year grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Market Access Program, which helps commodity groups develop overseas markets. The pear bureau shared those funds with the Washington Apple Commission, the California Pear Advisory Board, the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council and Northwest Cherry Growers.
They started with actors dressed up as luchadores representing each fruit, each with their own names and signature wrestling moves. The promoters also worked with artists to develop cartoon versions of the characters for animated videos and signage. The fruit characters played the heroes while villains dressed up like donuts. It all came at a time when the Mexican government has been trying to combat childhood obesity.
“Psycho Clown is the next evolution of it,” Correa said.
Though his name is not a matter of public record in Mexico, as is common in the luchador entertainment industry, Psycho Clown is 35 years old, comes from a family of professional wrestlers in Mexico and is generally regarded as one of the “good guys” in the narratives of pro wrestling entertainment.
Promoters consider the luchador campaign a success.
American pear exports to the entire world were down about 20 percent by volume from August 2020 through February 2021, compared to the same period the previous season, but down only about 5 percent in overall sales. That means prices went up, from $1,142 per ton to $1,373 per ton on a global scale. Mexico, which accounts for more than half of U.S. pear exports, was one of the stars of these price surges, jumping from $1,004 to $1,275 per ton.
Overall export values vary year-to-year for a variety of reasons, especially between the 2019–2020 season and the 2020–2021 season, due to the pandemic, fluctuations in the value of the peso and a relatively small pear crop this year, Correa said.
“That’s sort of our success story,” he said. The Psycho Clown relationship, and the entire luchador promotion, has been gaining attention and possibly driving volume increases since it started in 2017.
Sales volumes doubled on average, depending on the year, during in-store activities such as actors dressed up as apple, blueberry or cherry luchadores, according to a performance report submitted by USA Pears to the federal government. Supermarket display space has risen by as much as 30 percent, and at least 78 percent more school children interviewed told promoters they planned to purchase more fresh fruit after school activities featuring the luchador characters.
Meanwhile, the Facebook page, Luchando Por Estar Bien, is one of USA Pears’ most followed social media presences.
“We see more excitement from this activity than from some of our other activities,” Correa said.
The coalition of fruit exporters has exhausted the funds from the four-year grant. However, USA Pears has been so pleased with Psycho Clown specifically, the group has contracted him for promotions outside the scope of the grant this season and plans to continue doing so with its own funding in years to come, Correa said. •
—by Ross Courtney