DOVER, Fla. — Florida’s strawberry growers plan to promote their fruit to consumers throughout the East Coast through billboards and social media as well as through a partnership with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
In the Florida Strawberry Growers Association’s new partnership with the Tallahassee-based agency’s division of marketing, the association pays for growers’ Fresh from Florida memberships and allows growers to pack fruit bearing the agency’s Fresh from Florida logo.
Identifying with the successful national retail marketing program should help increase sales because studies show consumers want to food labels to show where the product is grown, said Sue Harrell, director of marketing.
“There’s a growing trend toward buying local,” she said. “We have seen the research that shows value in identifying Fresh from Florida, particularly during the winter months when we are the most locally grown berries on the Eastern Seaboard.”
Kenneth Parker, executive director of the strawberry association, said the partnership will be important in publicizing the availability of Florida’s berries at retail, including Lakeland-based Publix Super Markets Inc. and Jacksonville-based Winn-Dixie Stores Inc.
“The partnership is vital to our success,” he said.
“The commissioner of agriculture has taken this Fresh from Florida campaign personally. He’s stepped up with increasing resources to help Florida’s growers. They can get in places where we can’t because we don’t have those dollars.”
To remind motorists of Florida strawberry production, the agency plans to fund billboard advertisements that read “Fresh, local and in stores now” placed in seven heavily traveled locations along the state’s major interstate highways.
Last year, the association placed billboards in 22 East Coast cities but the FDACS partnership is limiting this year’s advertising to Florida, which has a large population of out of state visitors, Harrell said.
Through a partnership with a local trucking company, the association plans to promote that same message on four semitrailers driving from production regions up I-95 and I-75 to northeastern cities.
To encourage Florida’s snowbird visitors to purchase strawberries, the group is working with several Tampa area restaurants.
In a Valentine’s Day promotion, the Renaissance Hotel in Tampa plans to supply guests strawberries during check-in while Ulele, a trendy Tampa restaurant run by the owners that operate the famed Columbia Restaurant, plans to serve Florida strawberry ice cream and strawberry craft beer.
To show appreciation for growers, the downtown Tampa restaurant has scheduled a private Jan. 4 ice cream social.
“People from all over the world are in our area during the winter,” Harrell said.
“Even though we’re doing something local with this promotion, we’re promoting strawberries to people coming from all over the U.S. They don’t even know we’re growing just 15 miles east of them.”
The association is planning other restaurant promotions and Harrell visits with New York food magazine editors and food bloggers, and one of those food media outlets plans to visit the growing region for berry photography.
To interest consumers in purchasing strawberries during the middle of the northeastern winter, the association in February again plans to send local television weather forecasters baskets of Florida strawberries.
The promotion remains popular as the anchors enjoy discussing the benefits and taste of the berries and also enjoy eating the fruit on the air, Harrell said.
The agency plans to increase its social media presence, where it wants to engage mothers buying fruits and vegetables for their children to talk about what they plan to do with the items, Harrell said.
Studies show if a recipe is made with an unfamiliar item, many are more apt to purchase that item in the stores because they now know what to do with such products through social media and food bloggers, she said.
While most know strawberries are good in desserts, shoppers can learn about more creative menu uses in main courses, salads and other dishes, Harrell said.
The more the industry gets people talking about Florida strawberries, the more aware they’ll be of Florida’s season and more likely to buy Florida strawberries, she said.
Corrected: This article originally incorrectly stated the funding source of billboards promoting Florida strawberries.