Katie's Krops offers lesson in cause marketingCHICAGO — The example of a 13-year-old girl’s efforts to feed people in need offered inspiration to produce businesspeople attending the Aug. 14 keynote session of the Midwest Produce Conference and Expo.

Katie Stagliano is the founder and chief executive gardener of Katie’s Krops, a nonprofit organization that offers grants to other young people to create gardens to feed the needy like she did.

When she was in third grade, the youth from Summerville, S.C.,  participated in a cabbage growing contest sponsored by garden plant wholesaler Bonnie Plants. The winning cabbage Stagliano grew weighed in at 40 pounds.

At her dad’s suggestion, she said, she decided to donate it to a program that brings fresh produce to the needy. The cabbage was ultimately used a North Charleston, S.C., ministry to feed 275 needy people.

That start propelled her into getting land from her local school district to grow more vegetables for the local soup kitchen. From there germinated the idea for Katie’s Krops.

Katie’s Krops has funded 51 gardens in 22 states. The efforts have caught the attention of many media outlets.

“The connection between what she does and what the produce industry stands for is very powerful,” said Don Goodwin, president of Golden Sun Marketing, Minnetrista, Minn.

Goodwin shared the stage with Stagliano for the Midwest Expo session. He helps market Opal apples for First Fruit Marketing of Washington, Prescott, which provides funding for the grants that Katie’s Krops doles out.

Goodwin said nearly half of consumers have bought a brand that supports a cause at least monthly, and 93% want to know what companies are doing to make the world a better place.

“Cause marketing gives your produce, your company, a soul,” Goodwin said.

Tying marketing to a cause, such as Katie’s Krops is not just about making a difference in society but also about creating loyalty to your business, Goodwin said.

First Fruit Marketing also has created the Take a Bite Out of Hunger program, in which the company makes fresh apple donations in a retailer’s name to food banks.

Golden Sun Marketing also has participated in 2011 in creating the Pink Pumpkin Patch foundation with DP Seeds LLC , Yuma, Ariz., to market a pink pumpkin variety during Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October. Growers donate 25 cents per pink pumpkin sold to breast cancer research, Goodwin said.

For cause marketing to work, a produce supplier needs to pick a cause that is important to them ,  and they need to be passionate about it.

Goodwin reminded suppliers interested in cause marketing that the most effective marketing is done at the retail level, so keep the focus there.  When the story is told in the media, the suppliers take a back seat.

“It’s all the retailer’s story,” Goodwin said.

With the Take a Bite Out of Hunger program, retailers are encouraged to build bigger displays to earn bigger donations to regional food banks. Again, the contribution to the food bank is the retailer’s story.

Keep in mind opportunities to localize a story, and look for opportunities to talk about it, Goodwin said. For instance, with Katie’s Krops there is an opportunity for media interest when grants applications are announce, when grants are awarded and when crops are harvested and donated, he said.

For more Midwest Expo coverage, go to http://tinyurl.com/Midwest-Produce