Fresh off a successful spring campaign in Florida, the Bard Valley Medjool Date Growers Association, Bard, Calif., is introducing a marketing promotion concluding in the fall in six cities.

Medjool date growers launch aggressive promotion“There’s been an awakening in that growers have recognized the need to market at a level of quality they have produced in the past,” said Ed O’Malley, association president.  “They are really artisan growers.”

The Florida campaign ran during the Easter and Passover holidays, which research revealed is a high date consumption period, O’Malley said.

“Our sales in Florida are now running 35% ahead of this time a year ago,” said Dave Anderson, the association’s marketing director. “This is amazing given the restraint most consumers are showing for fresh produce that retails for more than $3 per pound.”

The association, which is marking the 25th anniversary of its founding, does not plan to stay idle during the summer. A dedicated public relations effort aimed at food editors and writers, chefs and food bloggers will continue, O’Malley said, “as the association continues to hone other marketing disciplines.”

The association’s website, www.bardmedjool.com, and social media sites are being enhanced, he said.

“We’ve found that Facebook is a great way for us to test recipes and consumer messaging tactics,” O’Malley said.

To embark on a coordinated 2011 campaign was not a snap decision. Numerous focus groups aided the association in understanding consumers, learning where the date industry sits with consumers and how they view the product, he said.

“This is without a doubt a pretty significant first step for us in what we hope to be many, many more steps in terms of competing for consumers,” O’Malley said.

“We developed some successful in-store date programs in Florida that we’ll definitely use as a template this fall,” Anderson said.

The six cities targeted for the fall — all among top date consuming cities in the U.S. — are Houston, St. Louis, Boston, Chicago, San Antonio and Seattle.

“In addition to the Internet, we’ll leverage the PR campaign with local dieticians and on air placements,” O’Malley said. “We’re really trying to educate medjool date users and all consumers about recipes, serving suggestions and seasonal uses for dates.”

The promotional campaign is not for purely selfish reasons on the part of the growers.

“We also frankly see it also as a way to reward retailers who have supported our brand and helped develop this category for many years,” Anderson said.

If the remainder of the campaign is as successful as the Florida segment, the association may commit to year round promotions, O’Malley said.

“The message here is that we have taken a leadership position within the category and intend to bring the product to the masses, if you will, taking it from a very special niche item to a more broad-based commodity,” he said.

(CORRECTION: the titles of O'Malley and Anderson were incorrect in the original story.)