Last July, we were contacted by a University of Michigan professor and encouraged to work with their MBA Program to look for new ways to expand cherry sales. Today, the University of Michigan has one of the top MBA programs in the country, and it seemed natural to challenge the best and brightest talent.

We submitted an application in the fall to the Ross Business School, and, to our surprise, our proposal ranked number one by both the faculty and the students out of over a 100 proposals. With six of the university’s top MBA students assigned to the cherry project, the work started on March 11. Last week, after seven weeks of work and over 1,600 person hours, the students presented their report to a packed boardroom of cherry industry leaders, processors, marketers, growers and government

The recommendation was to develop a brand of single-strength tart cherry juice in a ready-to-drink sports bottle targeting exercise and sports enthusiasts. Muscle recovery research is a strong health angle that will sell to the athlete in all of us. Brand development was coupled with a recommendation to develop a quality mark to encourage consumers to look for and buy real tart cherry products. Successful brands like Pom Wonderful, Ocean Spray, and Welch’s have written the book on brand development. The concept presented was about increasing sales, increasing markets, maximizing grower and processor returns, and delivering to the consumer a product that is good for you, easy to drink, and of high quality—all the elements of a successful marketing plan and a new direction for the industry to consider. Special thanks to the U. of M. team for all of their work!