The living produce category has seen recent growth, but there are plenty more ways to expand and promote the living produce category.

Marc Clark, executive vice president of Rocket Farms Inc., Salinas Calif., said his company is largely relying on social media to help reach the industry’s main target market.

“Gen X and Gen Y are a large part of who we try to reach, people who don’t have the big yard and wouldn’t have access to living produce any other way,” he said.

Clark says Rocket Farms has been active on Facebook and Twitter for four to five years, with Facebook offering the most interactions. However, Clark also is excited to see the company’s Pinterest page grow.

“With Pinterest, you can take a photograph and link it back to your website, which sends consumers right to the retailer. It’s just one more social connection, one more touch-point to interact. That’s super important,” he said.

Clark recognizes that interacting with consumers is critical because there’s still some confusion over the industry.

“It’s a tough issue. One of our main challenges is helping consumers understand that herbs are something you take inside and actually consume. Some people just want to plant it in the dirt outside,” he said.

He says this message is one that’s surprisingly difficult to convey.

“People see herbs at the garden center or at Home Depot, so we have to use a lot of shelf talkers and point-of-sale materials, even training with store managers to have a successful programs,” he said.

Clark says he knows of some companies that use in-store demonstrations and sampling, even though that can be difficult to sustain financially because it’s such a small category.

Still, he says the economic downturn has helped increase demand for living produce, a trend that began in Europe, where sales are still much higher.

“People want fresh and local food, and you can’t get any more local than living produce,” he said.

Serena Leiterman, marketing brand manager for North Shore Sales and Marketing Inc., Thermal, Calif., said her company encourages retail promotions and cross-promotions that change with the seasons.

“There are always basil promotions during the summertime, but we’re trying to get retailers to think outside the box a little more. It doesn’t always have to be a promotion with basil and tomatoes. We want to see what response comes from other creative pairings,” Leiterman said.

She says parings of mint with watermelon and strawberries and basil are becoming more popular, as well as the more traditional tarragon at Easter and other holiday herb specials for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

North Shore also is trying to promote their products at trade shows and other events, winning awards for their creative displays and booths. The company is also active on social media sites and understands the difficulty in explaining their product to consumers.

“We try to explain our story to consumers,” she said. “It’s a completely different growing method with the hydroponic system.”

She says the desire for people to know where their food came from is a good starting point for communication, especially because the hydroponic growing method allows for reduced water use and no ground water contamination.

“We are well positioned for that and want to convey our message to consumers,” Leiterman said.

Daniel Terrault, vice president of sales of HydroSerre Mirabel Inc., Quebec, said demand for the company’s hydroponically grown lettuce has been steady over the past 12 months.

“There’s no major growth, but it’s more stable. Some consumers buy (our products) every week,” Terrault said.

In order to grow the hydroponically grown living produce category, Terrault said a major marketing and advertising campaign would be required to reach consumers.

“We’d need some sort of big ad campaign to reach the entire market,” he said.

An effort that large would be very costly, however, so Terrault says most companies aren’t moving toward such a campaign.

“If we want to really grow this business, we’d need some type of association to help teach the consumer the difference between hydroponic living lettuce and the kind grown in a field,” Terrault said.