LAS VEGAS — Facebook, Twitter and other social mediums are an increasingly important means to reach consumers for the fresh produce industry, marketing experts say.

Social media, combined with an effective Web site and iPhone or BlackBerry applications, offer ways for fruit and vegetable growers to “tell your story,” said Dan’l Mackey Almy, president of DMA Solutions, an Irving, Texas, marketing firm that serves fresh produce businesses.

A consumer could enter a code into their cell phone and text message “avocado,” for example, and within seconds receive an e-mailed coupon for the fruit, Almy said during an April 21 session at the 2010 United Fresh Produce Association convention in Las Vegas.

Social media has taken on even greater importance as the industry steps up efforts to promote locally grown produce, she said.

“This is a huge opportunity, a way to connect with consumers,” Almy said.

Small and mid-sized fruit and vegetable growers can take brand-building lessons from the social media efforts of mass-market consumer products, such as Pepsi, Mountain Dew and Clorox, said Almy, who co-led the “Know Your Farmer: Telling Your Story Even When You’re Not Local” session.

According to the Mountain Dew Facebook page, there are more than 833,000 people who like the soda, Almy noted.

Key elements for fresh produce growers include locale, variety and heritage, said Elliot Grant, who also spoke at the session. Grant is chief marketing officer with HarvestMark, which provides food traceability services.

Additionally, Web sites need to be updated regularly and mobile phone applications “should be relevant to someone who’s mobile,” Grant said. For example, an iPhone application allows a consumer to scan codes on food packages for information on where products come from, he said.

The U.S. lags Europe on such mobile applications but is catching up, Grant said. “It’s a very powerful tool,” he said.

Generally, social media is still in its nascent stages, Grant emphasized, and there’s no established blueprint on how best to use it.

Social networking key to telling a story

Bruce Blythe

Dan’l Mackey Almy, president of marketing firm DMA Solutions, Irving, Texas, trades business cards following a workshop on social networking April 21 at the United Fresh Produce Association 2010 convention and expo in Las Vegas.