The December freezes that damaged Florida vegetable production haven’t stopped Florida’s sales and marketing arm from promoting Fresh from Florida produce throughout the world.

Dan Sleep, senior analyst with the division of marketing for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Tallahassee, said the agency has monitored damage. He said green beans, sweet corn and bell peppers suffered the most damage. He said the crops were turning around and improving in February and that volume should build through March and April.

Fresh from Florida program markets Sunshine State produce internationally

Though the state overall lost about 6.5 million cases of fresh produce, Sleep said buyers should expect strong volume for the remainder of the spring.

“We are in good shape going forward and expect excellent results in product out there,” Sleep said. “We don’t ship anything bad. No one can afford to do that. The product is inspected over and over.”

As part of its wide-reaching U.S. retail promotion program, the agency has signed up the Nash Finch Co., Minneapolis, to run a full week promoting Fresh from Florida products. All of the chain’s stores plan to feature the Florida items deep into the latter half of March.

Overall, the Fresh from Florida program expects to have 11,000 stores throughout the world promote Florida produce. Those stores are expected to generate up to 400,000 store advertisements, Sleep said.

“That’s where we want them to be, even with the hurt our state suffered in December,” he said. “We are beginning this season very strong. They had good growing conditions other than some drought, but they can react to that with watering. Our marketing programs will be all over the U.S. and in Canada, which is a huge market for us, as normal.”

Canadian presence

The department’s Canadian marketing has increased in recent years. In 2002, when the Fresh from Florida program first began promoting in the country, participating stores ran 3,000 advertisements, equivalent to a chain such as Publix Super Markets Inc., Lakeland, Fla., going on ad with three of the state’s products, Sleep said.

In 2009, Canadian retailers ran 110,000 store ads, he said. Sleep said he expects the country’s stores to have run a comparable number of ads in 2010.

“We have had a lot of fun with them over the years and their ads have grown each year,” he said. “We have seen tremendous growth up there. In total, 500,000 store ads have run in Canada to this point.”

In 2002, Sleep said Florida shipped $339 million in produce to Canada. By 2009, that number had increased to $505 million, he said.

Global reach
Fresh from Florida promotions also are experiencing strong growth in the Caribbean.

Price Smart, a chain of hypermarket stores, promotes Florida bell peppers, strawberries, tomatoes and corn.

This season, the department is adding Colombia through a program with Carrefour-Colombia, a large French retailer. Though the program has the chain promoting Florida orange juice, Sleep said the operator also plans to promote fresh produce.

In the United Kingdom, the Waitrose supermarket chain plans to promote fresh grapefruit.

Sleep said the agency is expecting to see a spike in exports to the country as the Fresh from Florida program helped increase export sales from $2.19 million in 2005 to $5.7 million in 2006 when the program doubled its month-long campaign.

In Sweden, the Fresh from Florida program plans to conduct a pilot program in a handful of stores.

The marketing representatives plan to continue promotions in South Korea, where after a decade of inactivity, Florida marketing representatives helped the country experience some success in 2008.

Sleep said demonstrations and sampling lifted grapefruit sales by more than 900%. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, promotions conducted in 2010 helped increase sales by 80,000 cases, Sleep said.

As South Korea expresses increased interest in promotions, Sleep said the Fresh from Florida program plans to expand its campaigns in the region and consider working with other partners.

“We plan to be in there for a while and do some great things,” he said. “For what we spent, we had a 40-to-1 return.”

The agency is also considering conducting a small promotional program in Singapore promoting blueberries and oranges.

“We are actively probing around the world where we can compete,” Sleep said. “We are getting good at it.”

This season, promotions will be conducted in 18 countries.

Florida’s new commissioner of agriculture, former congressman Adam Putnam, remains highly supportive of programs promoting Florida agricultural products, Sleep said.

“Putnam is very interested in continuing the positive pieces of these programs and perhaps growing them more,” Sleep said.

The state usually invests $500,000 in promoting Florida produce, Sleep said.