As a cancer survivor, Yuma, Ariz., seed producer Kevin Skaling immediately recognized a marketing niche when he bred a squarish pumpkin variety with pink skin.
Packaging with pink ribbons and designs is becoming increasingly prevalent in U.S. grocery stores throughout October for national Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Skaling’s Pink Porcelain Doll pumpkin, however, relies on its natural pigment to raise cancer awareness — and sales revenue for disease research.
Idaho Falls-based Potandon Produce takes a similar tact, centering a special October breast cancer awareness campaign around its pink-skinned Klondike Rose potato variety.
Skaling’s DP Seeds LLC requires any grower with a commercial pumpkin patch seeking seed to sign a pledge vowing to donate at least a quarter of every Pink Porcelain Doll sale for cancer research. Last season, the first year that his seed was available, his Pink Pumpkin Patch Foundation awarded a $30,000 cancer research grant with grower contributions. This season, he’s given seeds of his unique variety to FFA chapters throughout the country, encouraging them to raise pink pumpkins and return a portion of their sales for his philanthropy.
The variety has also been carried by at least 32 large retail chains, including Walmart, Fred Meyer, Kroger and Home Depot.
“It’s starting to grow and growing exponentially,” Skaling said of Pink Porcelain Doll plantings. “This year we doubled sales and the amount of seed that’s out there.”
Jeff and Hayley Lowry, operators of the first-year Golden Pumpkin Patch in Chubbuck, Idaho, learned of the Pink Pumpkin Patch Foundation online and will donate about $300 to the cause from their Pink Porcelain Doll sales.
They raise pumpkins on 4 acres — with a cash box where customers can make honor-system purchases — and had no prior farming experience, relying on advice from local potato and grain farmers. They raised 20 varieties of pumpkins this season and intend to retain the best producers next year, including Pink Porcelain Doll.
“Little girls love pink pumpkins,” Hayley said. “I’ve had some women who have had breast cancer come in and say, ‘I’ve got my pink pumpkin!’”
Potandon started its national fall breast cancer promotion three years ago, selling Klondike Rose and Klondike Gold Dust in special packaging throughout October. Potandon makes a flat donation of $10,000 to breast cancer research in conjunction with its campaign.
“Klondike rose is already pink. We thought, wouldn’t it be cool if we turned our bag pink and do the whole pink promotion during this month?” said Potandon marketing coordinator Barbara Keckler, adding the company has also touted the variety’s yellow flesh as a “heart of gold.”
Keckler said most grocery chains now emphasize pink promotions during October.
“They want to turn their produce departments as pink as possible,” she said. “It’s becoming a pretty big deal.”
For the past two seasons, Potandon has hosted a website at www.pinterest.com where people can post photos and stories about cancer survivors.
The fresh produce company also donates pink uniforms for the Idaho Falls Chukars baseball team to wear during a breast cancer awareness game. The uniforms are auctioned afterward to raise research dollars.