Marketers carry on without commission

09/21/2012 01:10:00 PM
Jim Offner

Generic promotions of California kiwifruit disappeared last year when members voted the Sacramento-based California Kiwifruit Commission out of existence.

All that was left was a federal marketing order, the Kiwifruit Administrative Committee, also based in California’s capital.

The committee doesn’t do promotions. It exists to ensure grade standards are followed, as well as compile statistical information and track crop estimates.

Nick Matteis, assistant director for the committee, said he can’t even speak for the committee but only from the perspective as an industry member and former employee of the commission.

From that perspective, he said, there is hope that some of the commission’s old functions will return.

The committee is attempting to get the rules changed to allow it to do some work in marketing and/or research, he said.

“The commission specifically was set up to handle those generic promotions and marketing efforts and coordinate research projects, so without it, we don’t have the same kind of opportunities to do outreach to the trade media as we had before,” Matteis said.

Generic promotions are not on the radar because there is no industry representative that collects assessments required to carry on that activity, he said.

“On top of that, there’s no opportunity for an industry representative group to perform research on behalf of the industry at this point, either,” he said.

Any change in the rules would have to come from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the agency has not made any decision on the matter, Matteis said.

California growers also no longer have any collective representation in the world market, since the commission participated in the International Kiwifruit Organization.

There is an effort among a number of industry participants to remedy that situation by forming a group called the California Kiwifruit Organization, to serve as host group for a meeting of the International Kiwifruit Organization in September in Healdsburg, Calif., Matteis said.

“Industry folks have pulled their resources together and formed a group to at least host a conference and perhaps to keep ongoing representation of the industry on the international level ongoing,” he said.

The committee has no relationship to this group, he said.

The committee’s chief executive, Chris Zanobini, heads up an umbrella organization called Ag Association Management Services Inc., which handles management for various boards, commissions and agriculture trade associations in California, Matteis said.

The kiwifruit marketing order, with its narrowly defined duties, has a mandated assessment of 3.5 cents per 19.8-pound volume fill.

When the commission was active, members paid a 10-cent assessment that covered all programs, Matteis said.

The committee has an 11-member board, including one public member and one alternate public member.

The commission left a gap that individual shippers and marketers are filling, said Doug Phillips, owner of Phillips Farms Marketing, Visalia, Calif.

A generic promotion campaign didn’t benefit bigger companies, which generated their own marketing programs anyway, said Dick Spezzano, owner of Spezzano Consulting Service, Monrovia, Calif.

“When you have a commission doing it, they don’t care whose kiwi you use, as long as it’s California, and it raises everybody’s boat if you buy from different people,” Spezzano said.

That makes sense for a small operation with little or no funding to develop a unique marketing program, but it created a situation where larger shippers were paying more than small ones, Spezzano said.

“Whenever you have a dominance of one or two growers, they see no reason to take money out of their pocket,” he said.

Tom Tjerandsen, managing director for North America with the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association in Sonoma, Calif., disagreed.

“It has steadily dropped downward,” Tjerandsen said of kiwifruit consumption after the commission’s disappearance.

There’s only one way to deal with that, said Kurt Cappelluti, sales manager with Madera, Calif.-based Stellar Distributing Inc.

“You do what you’re supposed to do — you get on the phone and promote it and sell the fruit,” he said.



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