Florida’s promotional arm returns this season with retail-based promotions to help encourage consumers to buy more of the Sunshine State’s fall, winter and spring fruit and vegetables.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Tallahassee, has been sending merchandising groups to its U.S., Canada and overseas retail partners to arrange promotions to interest supermarkets in carrying and promoting the biggest fall and winter vegetable producer’s offerings.

Retail campaigns promote Florida produce

The state runs two campaigns every year: the Global Grid program — which promotes Florida produce in North America and internationally — and the Winter Circle program, which focuses on retail stores in Florida and surrounding southeastern states.

While it plans to continue its heavy retail promotions, Dan Sleep, a senior analyst with the department’s division of marketing, said the agency plans to conduct more sampling with Publix Super Markets Inc., Lakeland, Fla., a major southeastern-based chain.

New apron campaign

The agency has long sponsored sampling or apron programs in the overseas chains it works with but hasn’t done much in its own turf, Sleep said.

He said success with international demonstrations has prompted up to 400% sales lifts. 

In the apron campaign, which is scheduled to begin in March, the agency plans to have its chef work with Publix’s culinary kitchens.

The campaign would have the store sampling green beans, sweet corn and watermelon, as well as other Florida produce items.

“Publix will add a huge amount of exposure to our products,” Sleep said. “Though costs are higher, sampling is a way to break loose of the cost noise. When you do sampling, around 70% of the time people will buy the product. There are residual impacts that are far greater than most probably realize or appreciate.”

Publix brings more than 1,000 stores to the overall promotional campaign, and usually runs up to 50,000 individual store advertisements during the campaign, Sleep said.

For 2008-09, the campaigns, which involve major U.S. chains such as Kroger, Meijer, Nash-Finch, Jewell, Sobeys and Acme, drew 11,728 individual stores that ran an estimated 413,000 individual store advertisements.

That’s up from the previous season when the campaigns attracted 11,204 single stores that ran 397,000 individual advertisements, Sleep said.

More than 40 retail chains participate in the promotions.

International marketing

A big part of the promotional push involves international retail promotions.

Canada has increased its purchases of Florida produce.

Florida is pushing toward $440 million in yearly exports to the region, up from $290 million just five to six years ago, Sleep said.

“This has been a tremendous increase in sales for us,” Sleep said. “We have seen a 50% growth in Florida exports there during the last five years.”

An important part of that increase involves Canadian trade teams the agency has brought to Florida’s production areas.

During the spring, a group of Ontario buyers including representatives from Stellarton, Nova Scotia-based Sobeys Inc. and the Toronto Wholesale Terminal Market visited with Belle Glade, Fla., and Homestead, Fla., grower-shippers.

The buyers toured the state’s growing operations, packinghouses and farmers markets.

The visit resulted in the signing of additional sales contracts and some interest in new product entries in the Canadian marketplace, Sleep said.

Sleep said the visits were successful and that the agency plans to schedule more in the future.

Overseas merchandising

The agency also has sent groups to promote Florida produce in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Trinidad.

Leading British chains such as Waitrose Ltd. and Wal-Mart-owned Asda also participate.

The effort has resulted in the chains running more store advertisements, Sleep said.

The overseas promotions often promote commodities such as blueberries, sweet corn and grapefruit.

The blueberry promotions usually begin in April while the corn and grapefruit promotions start during the winter months.

In total, Florida’ s promotional programs work with more than 40 U.S. chains in 40 states, the District of Columbia, five Canadian provinces and 13 Caribbean and Central American countries, plus the U.S. Virgin Islands and the United Kingdom.