Florida strawberry association focuses on foodservice

12/23/2011 10:34:00 AM
Doug Ohlemeier

DOVER, Fla. — To attract more chefs and consumers searching for recipes to the state’s winter strawberries, the Florida Strawberry Growers Association is focusing on increasing business to restaurants.

The association is helping educate chefs through its chefs advisory board, attempting to generate more consumer interest in strawberries through revamping its website, expanding the outreach of its mascot, running radio and television commercials and telling Florida visitors about the state’s strawberries through interstate billboards.

The chefs advisory board includes executive chefs from Hard Rock Cafe at Universal Studios in Orlando as well as Justin Timineri, executive chef of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The board plans to develop recipes that other executive chefs can use in their menus. The association is scheduling a Jan. 12 media tour involving one of the directors of the Atlanta-based Research Chefs Association, which plans to bring up to 40 influential culinary arts professionals to central Florida to visit farming operations and hear presentations from the association, said Sue Harrell, the association’s director of marketing.

The association will use the chefs to formulate recipes, which the association plans to use and link to the chefs’ blogs and websites. Receiving strong interaction with its social media posts, the association plans to invest more in social media.

To encourage more consumers to use strawberries in their recipes, the association is revamping its website.

The current site, www.flastrawberry.com, became unmanageable and difficult for consumers to search for information, Harrell said. Expected to take a year to fully develop, the new site is constructed on the Wordpress platform to match the association’s strawberrysue.com site, which features numerous recipes and information on strawberries.

“We are the spokesmen for the Florida strawberry industry,” Harrell said.

“This is where everyone’s going, to that site.”

Harrell said she was surprised that consumer interest in strawberries doesn’t stop during Florida’s late spring and summer off-season, when its website experiences increasing views of the association’s blogs and recipes.

The association is expanding the visibility of Jammer, an animated strawberry character the group uses as a mascot to promote its growers’ berries.

For two seasons, the association has featured the character in videos to help teach children about strawberry production and nutrition.

The group is producing additional videos and people can now view Jammer videos on their iPhones and iPads, Harrell said.

To personalize Jammer at public events, the association in December was having a Jammer costume constructed. At the public events, the association parks its van wrapped with photos of Jammer and strawberries.

The colorful van attracts children’s interest while association staff distribute coloring books, Jammer dolls, stickers and T-shirts.

Harrell said all the association needs to do is park the van and its Jammer focus becomes a big hit with crowds.

The association placed billboards along Interstate 4 between Tampa and Orlando to remind visitors and residents about Florida’s production of winter strawberries.

The signs highlight the production area and are designed to be viewed by millions of vacationers and snowbirds visiting the Sunshine State, Harrell said.

Additionally, the association plans to run 30-second television commercials on the Tampa area Fox affiliate as well as on a leading regional cable TV system’s 24-hour news channel.

It plans to run radio commercials as well in the Tampa area to promote the state’s berries.

Gary Wishnatzki, president and chief executive officer of Wish Farms, Plant City, applauds the association’s efforts to inform people about the benefits of strawberries.

“I think the association is doing a good job trying to bring about awareness in communities that strawberries are available this time of year from a local supply,” he said.

“They are doing this by making use of a limited budget.”



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