(Jan. 2) DOVER, Fla. — New leadership has the Florida Strawberry Growers Association increasing investments in marketing and promotions.

The change in marketing has the association planning to spend up to $100,000 this season promoting central Florida berries, beginning marketing earlier in the season, redesigning the group’s logo and introducing a Web site.

Though similar to last year, a transitional year when the association didn’t have a marketing director, the promotional investments are significantly higher than previous years’ funding of $40,000 to $50,000 a year, said Sue Harrell, director of marketing.

Harrell, who for a dozen years headed East Coast operations for Watsonville, Calif.-based Driscoll Strawberry Associates Inc.’s Dover operation, joined the association in March.

Shawn Crocker, the association’s executive director, started in January 2007. Crocker previously worked in the Florida orange juice industry.

EARLIER PROMOTIONS

This year’s effort has the association moving its promotions up a couple of months, partnering with major Southeastern and Northeastern retailers for store displays and contests and advertising Florida berries to the state’s residents on major-market television stations.

In past years, the association had stores conduct promotions primarily in March. This season, however, the association plans to begin the promotions in January, when grower prices are higher, Harrell said.

“With the varieties we’re growing, we have more volume in the earlier months,” she said. “There’s a lot of fruit in March that has to be moved, but it’s usually at a lesser price. We want to advertise and educate consumers that the fruit is here.”

NORTHEASTERN FOCUS

Harrell has been meeting with retailers such as Tampa-based Sweetbay Supermarkets and Lakeland-based Publix Super Markets Inc. on contests and in-store displays.

She plans mid-January visits with major Northeastern retailers such as Wegmans Food Markets Inc., a Rochester, N.Y.-based upscale chain that plans to do demonstrations featuring Florida strawberries.

Harrell said the association is beginning to build and identify key markets for its retail promotions program.

In Florida, the association in early December began airing commercial on Fox-affiliated television stations in the Jacksonville, Orlando and Tampa markets. The commercials, which run through March, feature children eating berries and telling viewers that Florida strawberries are in season and on their grocers’ shelves.

GROWER SUPPORT

Grower-shippers say they support the association’s promotions push.

“They’re doing an excellent job and are working hard at it,” said Sal Toscano, sales manager for Grimes Produce Co. LLC, Plant City. “The things they do for growers on one side and for the trade on the other have been good for us.”

Ken Andrews, sales manager of Parkesdale Packing & Cooling Inc., the sales arm of Dover-based Parkesdale Farms, in the past said he wondered why growers paid into the association. Andrews said he didn’t think they got their money’s worth.

With new leadership, Andrews said he has changed his opinion.

Kristen Hitchcock, daughter of Parkesdale owners Robert H. Parke and Peggy Parke, is an association board member.

Hitchcock is taking a strong, active role in the group, Andrews said.

“This has to become a nationwide or North American effort to make it known that we have strawberries,” he said. “Everyone in the world knows California has strawberries. We want it to be the same way for Florida.”