Doug Ohlemeier, Eastern Editor
Doug Ohlemeier, Eastern Editor

Competition among grower-shippers can be cutthroat.

In my visits to growing regions, I’ve seen some express negativity toward their competitors.

When some suggested the industry jointly fund an event, I was told some would become jealous their sponsorship banner wasn’t positioned as prominently as another’s.

Georgia’s peach deal, however, is one where two of its leading growers and packers are coming together to help promote the state’s tasty summer fruit.

Duke Lane III, vice president of sales with Lane Southern Orchards, and Will McGehee, sales manager for the Genuine Georgia Group and Pearson Farm, are fifth-generation members of family farming operations.

For four years, Lane, president of the Byron-based Georgia Peach Council, and McGehee, the council’s marketing director, have set aside commercial competitive differences and are jointly promoting the state’s fruit to Eastern retailers.

The two Fort Valley, Ga.-based packers hit the road and visited with prospective retail accounts’ stores and corporate headquarters to market the quality and taste of The Peach State’s fruit, which usually matures to its best flavor in July.

McGehee, whose mother, Ann Pearson, is of the family farming operation, said he and Lane are like the “Mutt and Jeff” in peach promotions.

Unlike those early 1900s cartoon characters, Lane and McGehee aren’t pretentious and work together to promote the future of their industry.

The two are similar in age, are neighbors who send their children to the same schools and have much personally invested in seeing their industry flourish.

“There’s a lot of cutthroat stuff that goes on in other commodities,” McGehee said. “This isn’t something you hear about often. With most people who sell and market fruit, their families are always at each others’ throats. We feel like we can stay above the fray a bit. This isn’t a front. We’re genuine friends who are working for the greater good than just our family farms.”

Of course, each sells his own accounts, but the friends, whose families enjoy dinners together on Friday nights, see the tag-team combination effectively marketing the state’s orchards.

The idea to pair on retail customer visits didn’t blossom out of some strategic plan or goal, Lane said.

The two saw an opportunity to try to persuade some retail targets to purchase Georgia peaches, he said.

“When we visit those retailers, no one sees us as two competitors in front of them,” Lane said. “They see two people passionate about Georgia’s peach industry.”

While some older peach growers doubted such a plan would work when first proposed, the visits are well-received.

This cooperative merchandising approach is a good effort that grower-shippers of other commodities, particularly ones lacking marketing boards or commissions or those with smaller promotional budgets, would do well to consider adopting.

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