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SAN FRANCISCO — Ask before sending product, and for goodness sake, don’t start correspondence with a “Dear Blogger” greeting.

Blogger panel offers tips to connectThose tips and more were offered by a panel of bloggers and industry experts during a session at the Produce for Better Health Foundation Board Meeting on March 15.

More than 80% of Americans say they cook at least two dinners a week, and 90% of those home chefs go online for recipes, said panel moderator Bob Oschner, public relations director for DGWB Advertising and Communications.

Blogger influence on the way people cook continues to gain ground, he said.

“Seventy-three percent of Americans who classify themselves as cooks have been to a food blog,” Oschner said, and 52% of them have used a recipe from a food blog.

The blogger panel, which included some that offer sponsored posts, said working with the produce industry is an easy fit for many lifestyles, from weight loss, to healthful and nutritional eating.

The initial connection with bloggers can happen in a variety of ways. Cristie Mather, communications manager for the Pear Bureau Northwest, Milwaukie, Ore., said she’s been working with bloggers to promote the bureau’s message for the past several years. Mather often find them through blogger conferences and events like Blogger Food, Food Fete and the International Foodservice Editorial Conference.

“You don’t have to sponsor,” Mather said. “It’s a very social group and you meet some of the most popular bloggers. There’s a lot of enthusiasm for people to geek out on ingredients.”

The panel also suggests reading through posts to make sure the product is a good fit for the audience, and using e-mail to contact bloggers. But don’t be too persistent, said Amy Sherman of Cooking with Amy.

“A bad PR person would send us 10 e-mails and then call us to ask ‘Did you get that e-mail?’” Sherman said.

If a blogger mentions loving a certain product, that’s a good hint they’d be willing to include information about the product. Jessica Goldman Foung of Sodium Girl said she’s often mentioned brands, but is surprised at how infrequently she’s contacted.

“I’ve only had two brands out of the many I’ve mentioned,” she said. “That’s also a quick way to find out if this blogger is going to be a loyal user — do a search of your brand on their blog.”

Oschner, who works with brands including Dole and Natural Delights dates, offered advice for working with bloggers, including offering them something unique and useful — not a blanket news release.

“You want to create value down the line so offer a unique experience, such as meeting the growers, seeing the farm or access to the field,” he said. “What do you have that they can get anywhere else?”

A trip to a growing operation isn’t the only way to connect with bloggers, Sherman said. Working with a product itself is just as effective, provided the brands get in touch prior to sending product.

“Some blogs are very much about exclusive product and the experience and some are about everyday availability,” she said. “The best thing you can do is to have a relationship with us and say something like, ‘Amy here are 10 new things we have coming out this season, please let me know if any of these are of interest to you.’

“Cookbook publishers have been doing this for a long time and it makes it easy for us to respond.”