(Dec. 23) WATSONVILLE, Calif. — Retailers looking for help in promoting California strawberries next year can expect a dash of color from the California Strawberry Commission.

In a series of planning meetings this fall, the strawberry commission developed a marketing plan of The Red Edge for 2003. The theme piggybacks off the 5 a Day the Color Way program, which encourages consumers to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables of different colors to gain the most health benefits.

“When you think of red, you think of strawberries,” said Dominique Hansen, communications director for the strawberry commission. “We want to be known as the red. It’s good for you. And for retailers, strawberries offer profitability and beautiful displays.”

In conducting its marketing plan in 2003, the strawberry commission will work with retailers much like it has in the past, but this year the commission will focus even more strongly on customization. Tying in with 5 a Day will play an important role, and some examples of customization might be 5 a Day color wheels that feature the logos of the retailer and the strawberry commission, Hansen said.

The strawberry commission also will offer new point-of-purchase materials for retailers.

MORE RESEARCH

Its marketing plan won’t stop there. This year, the strawberry commission began sponsoring more research into strawberry nutrition, and that will continue to be a major focus in 2003, Hansen said.

“Everybody knows that strawberries are healthy, but now we need to show what they can do for you,” she said. “We’re doing clinical trials now and looking at other research projects. We may work with some retailers to draw people into stores by having dietitians or researchers speak. We’re looking for ways to tie retail promotions and nutrition research together.”

And the strawberry commission is not just focused on retail. It also is working with some foodservice chains — including some it hadn’t worked with recently — on promoting strawberries.

NEW FACES

The 2003 California strawberry season, which kicks off slowly next month will bring new challenges — and new faces — to the commission. For the first time in many years the commission will go into a new season without Cindy Jewell, who left her post as executive vice president in October to handle marketing for Pacific Gold Farms, and marketing director Stephanie Hilton, who announced plans to leave at the end of the year to form her own company.

The merchandising team will be led by Tim Hallows, who has several years of experience with the commission. And president Rodger Wasson is in the latter stage of interviews of candidates for a couple of positions and should make decisions in the coming months.

“We’ll definitely miss those who’ve left,” Hansen said. “But we’re looking forward to the future.”