Retail promotions help expand sales of Florida-grown produce

Florida’s produce marketing machine is kicking in to promote the state’s spring produce.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ division of marketing promotes the state’s fruit and vegetables through retail promotions in the U.S. and throughout the world.

Retail promotions help expand sales of Florida-grown produce

The department’s promotional programs provide incentives to retailers to run advertisements that feature the Fresh from Florida logo and Florida produce.

The agency pays retailers differing amounts of money after they mail the ads to the agency.

This marketing year, the department expects nearly 12,000 individual stores to carry the Florida logo and promote Florida’s produce in its weekly store ads through its two marketing programs.

The Winter Circle program promotes Florida-grown produce in Florida and surrounding southeastern states while the Global Grid campaign works with retailers throughout the U.S., in Canada and overseas.

Store participation

Last year, the two programs promoted Florida produce in 11,728 stores, up from the 11,200 stores that participated during the 2007-08 season, said Dan Sleep, a marketing division senior analyst in Tallahassee, Fla.

For 2008-09, major U.S. supermarket chains participating in the campaigns ran an estimated 413,000 individual store advertisements.

This season, which runs from November through late May, the agency expects 375,000 individual store ads to run.

The lower number follows store consolidation and changes in store operations, and the number computes to each supermarket chain running 35 Fresh from Florida ads, Sleep said.

“Some chains do very well and do much more than that, while some don’t. It’s a gambit,” Sleep said. “In any particular week they’re usually running, as many as 180 million shoppers worldwide are having opportunities to purchase Fresh from Florida items.”

More than 40 retail chains, including Publix, Kroger, Meijer, Nash-Finch, Jewell, Sobeys and Acme, participate in the promotions.

Chef to promote produce
In its domestic promotions, the department is using Justin Timineri, its executive chef and culinary ambassador, to provide lessons in “extreme cuisine” in numerous Florida appearances throughout late March.

In promoting Florida’s fresh commodities, Timineri creates recipes and participates in trade shows throughout the world and gives cooking demonstrations to teach children about nutrition, according to information provided by the agency.

He is scheduled to appear in Florida Publix Super Markets stores in Boca Raton, Jacksonville, Tampa and Sarasota.

Timineri is scheduled to visit Florida elementary and high schools in Fort Myers, Hudson and Davie.

Sleep said the marketing programs have helped lift sales of some items that had been sagging.

In 1998, sales of bell peppers, for example, amounted to $276 million and declined to $169 in yearly sales in 2002, the year the agency began its big retail push.

That year, stores ran 2,300 store ads promoting bell peppers. In 2008, up to 24,000 stores ran ads that helped increase sales to $267 million.

“The trend was reversed and there are no more declines,” Sleep said. “What we are trying to do throughout the program is find out how many ads it takes to reverse those kinds of trends. Can we grow product out and help them achieve new paradigms? Can we help move them to another realm?”

Expanding commodity sales

The department wants to expand blueberry sales. Sleep recently met with some Florida growers who say they think that programs run by the agency could help expand their blueberry sales from today’s $51.9 million to up to $100 million within three to four years.

The state’s blueberry sales were $25.2 million in 2004.

“We are looking at windows to expand their ability to market and to get a little outside of their April and May window,” Sleep said.

The promotional programs also work to encourage overseas retailers to promote Florida-grown produce.

The department is working on a small pilot program in Seoul, South Korea, involving grapefruit sampling in 20 hypermarket stores.

Last year, a similar program produced a 900% lift in sales. Sleep said the agency would be happy if the program helped boost sales by 300%.

For all of its programs, the agency works with more than 40 U.S. chains in 40 states, the District of Columbia, Canada,  13 Caribbean and Central American countries, the U.S. Virgin Islands, South Korea and the United Kingdom.

The state this year is investing $500,000 into its retail promotions, similar to what it spent for 2008-09.