Local remains a marketing tool for Carolina growers

05/14/2010 03:06:03 PM
Andy Nelson

The locally grown trend continues to be a boon for grower-shippers of North Carolina fruits and vegetables.

“I definitely think locally grown promotions help demand, and I think they’ll continue to grow,” said James Sharp, president of Wilson, N.C.-based Fresh-Pik.

The North Carolina Department of Agriculture’s Goodness Grown and Got to be NC programs have done a good job of tapping into the locally-grown trend, he said. Those programs feature advertisements and point-of-sale materials.

For many retailers, the demand for locally grown has to be weighed with increased demand for product that meets the strictest food safety standards.

It can be a tricky negotiation, give that many smaller, local growers don’t have the critical mass to fund stringent food safety programs, but that’s not an issue for Fresh-Pik.

“All of our farms are third-party audited and meet the highest food-safety standards,” he said. “We started doing it several years before it became mandatory, and we think it’s been beneficial for us.”

Greg Cardamone, general manager for vegetables at Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc. also reported strong demand for locally-grown North Carolina vegetables, and he expects that trend to continue this summer.

“Locally grown is as strong as ever for North Carolina-grown product,” he said. “We have two retailers that we have supplied marketing materials to on our growers.”

Several more retailers, Cardamone said, have expressed interest in similar programs. And a niche market on the foodservice side has sent out some feelers to the company.

“We’ve even had interest from military bases,” he said.

If customers request that North Carolina-grown tomatoes be packed in a locally grown label, Clovis, Calif.-based Ag-Mart Produce Inc., which does business as Santa Sweets Inc., Plant City, Fla., has the capacity to do it, said J.M. Procacci, the company’s chief operating officer.

But because the company only ships its Santa Sweet grapes and Ugly Ripe beefsteaks from North Carolina for up to 10 weeks each summer, demand for locally grown marketing is not as strong as in other of the company’s growing regions, Procacci said.

“Locally grown is a huge thing up in the Northeast, especially in New Jersey with Jersey Fresh,” he said.

“We do participate in locally grown programs in North Carolina, but we hardly get any requests. It’s just such a short deal.”



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