Michigan marketers march on without state’s help

04/09/2010 11:32:55 AM
Jim Offner

Michigan’s asparagus industry will have to do without the help of the state’s Select Michigan program this year.

That doesn’t mean the state’s growers are expecting to sell any less product — it’s just a sign of the times in a state hit hard by the recession.

“The state’s ongoing fiscal crisis and subsequent reductions in funding to the Michigan Department of Agriculture has caused the Select Michigan Program to be severely curtailed,” read a message on the Michigan Department of Agriculture’s Web site.

“The department will temporarily discontinue signing Memorandums of Understanding for the use of the Select Michigan logo. Companies who are already authorized users of the logo are encouraged to continue to use it.”

The move is painful, but it won’t be fatal to Michigan growers and shippers, said John Bakker, executive director of the DeWitt-based Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board.

“That was huge,” Bakker said. “Organizations like ourselves are going to continue to have the Michigan logo. We just have to shoulder the responsibility ourselves.”

Asparagus marketing activity will continue to be vigorous, said Dan Mol, president of Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Mol Produce Co.

“In a recession, people don’t buy cars or houses or take expensive vacations, but they don’t cut back on what they eat much,” Mol said. “I’ve been in business 33 years, and it’s been my experience that the last thing they cut back on is what they eat.”

Marketing advantages

There are other marketing tools available, Mol said.

“With asparagus, we’ve got an advantage over other crops,” he said. “With the push for homegrown, we’re the first of the season. Retailers have been buying product out West and from South America, and they want to promote what’s out of their backyard.”

Retailers have their own homegrown programs, anyway, Mol noted.

“I think it was a nice idea, the Select Michigan program, but the local chains are going to continue to promote the product for their own personal interests,” he said.

There aren’t many asparagus-producing regions, so consumers in those areas appreciate the homegrown product, said Todd DeWaard, sales manager for Hudsonville, Mich.-based Superior Sales Inc.

“With all the items that would follow the local push, asparagus is one of the leaders,” he said. “You’ve got Indiana and Michigan, and you don’t have all the other players.

“With other items, in the summer everyone can grow cucumbers, peppers and that kind of stuff, but asparagus is specialized and doesn’t grow everywhere. The competition isn’t out there like it is on other locally grown items in summer,” he said.

Mark Nyhof, salesman for Hudsonville-based Miedema Produce Inc., agreed that the company will find plenty of its homegrown asparagus.

“We have a broad clientele of retail customers that seems to work for us,” Nyhof said. “Homegrown is something that works good for us because the markets are close by.”



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