When the peak season for locally grown produce hits, retailers look for ways to get the message out.
There are a lot of them, said Ray Gilmer, vice president of communications with the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association.
There are probably 20 retailers with different strategies on how to market locally grown, he said.
“But I think all of them are about adding value and improving the experience of the customers. How they brand that product and tell that local message, they all choose a different way to do it and, frankly, that’s a good thing,” he said.
A loose definition of “locally grown” has something to do with it as well, he said.
“Not having a firm definition that’s imposed by the industry allows for that kind of activity and the customization of the marketing at retail, so the thing that works for consumers works to their benefit,” Gilmer said.
There are more marketing platforms available than ever, and retailers should be accessing them, said Dick Spezzano, owner of Monrovia, Calif.-based Spezzano Consulting Services.
“They should be using all avenues of marketing, whether it’s social media or the website or your overhead radio in the store or signage in the store or pictures and identifications of the farmers,” Spezzano said.
“You could have a sign that says, ‘They have 27 acres, and we’re their No. 1 customer.’ You put a face on the grower.”
Summer brings plenty of opportunities to get the message out, Spezzano said.
“For that time, from June 1 through Oct. 1, you got a nice umbrella to do some marketing,” he said. “Just about everything in the produce department is locally grown now.”
Rockville, Md.-based retail chain Magruder Inc. features a variety of locally or regionally grown produce every week, said Stan Steppa, president.
“We have an expanded produce department because of homegrown,” he said. “We’re doing great because of the homegrown stuff.”
Some states are active in their own local programs.
“We do well whenever retailers focus on the local aspect,” said Adam Watson, produce marketing specialist for the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, Frankfort.
“We have a very strong local branding called Kentucky Proud. Whenever we work with retailers on advertising and point-of-purchase signage and things like that, they do very well because Kentucky Proud is becoming a very well-known brand to consumers.”
Louisville, Ky.-based wholesaler Horton Fruit Co. said its retail customers are strong supporters of local produce.
“I think with some of the guys we do retail with, they really do promote that they are helping sustain family farms,” said Mike Passafiume, salesman for Horton Fruit.
“They put it in their ads and try to show they’re supporting the family farms and homegrown farmers. All of our farmers are third-party audited and have traceability and make sure product is safe. They have a good partnership, and I think they really value that.”
It’s good business for retailers to do that, said Atomic Torosian, partner in Fresno, Calif.-based Crown Jewels Marketing & Distribution LLC.
“It helps to promote local grown,” he said.
“There’s a Brentwood corn grower who’s been growing the same seed variety for 20 years, and you’ll see a frenzy in the local stores (for his corn). In the Northwest, when they have their local grown in blueberries or stone fruit, they really display it well in the stores and have a picture of the guy sometimes. It seems to generate sales.”
A straight-from-the-field approach works well for retailers, said Ed Odron, owner of Odron Produce Marketing & Consulting Services, Stockton, Calif.
“The key is that it’s really fresh product,” Odron said.
“What the retailers are trying to do is let them know they have local, whether it’s corn or grapes, so they can compete with the farmers markets. That’s the key to locally grown.”