The Mid-Atlantic produce season is prime time for retail promotions.
Maryland and Virginia, in particular, are active in getting products from their states into the stores, officials from the states’ departments of agriculture say.
For example, the Maryland Department of Agriculture routinely works to connect retailers with growers, said Mark Powell, chief of marketing and agribusiness development with the Maryland Department of Agriculture in Annapolis.
“Some chains work with us using point-of-purchase materials, and some prefer to use their own materials. In either case, we want to help chain stores and other retailers in the state sell Maryland,” Powell said.
Last year, the department worked with the Harris Teeter, ShopRite and Whole Foods retail chains on in-store sampling of Maryland apples, Powell said.
“Sales went up directly as a result of having knowledgeable department of ag staff who could answer questions about the varieties, growing practices and the stories of the farmers growing the apples,” Powell said.
Department representatives provide an educational component that leads to sales, Powell said.
“Consumers love to know the story behind their food, and we have some great farmers, many who are multi-generational, who have great stories we enjoy sharing,” he said.
The department plans to do more of the same this year, Powell said.
Promotions are helpful across the Mid-Atlantic region, but keeping the supplies flowing is the best route to sales success, said Mike Blume, salesman with Greencastle, Pa.-based Keystone Fruit Marketing Inc.
“We do our best to fulfill the needs of our customers so they can supply the consumer with great peaches all season long,” he said.
In Virginia, the Virginia Grown buy-local program is an effective retail tool, said David Hickman, vice president of Horntown, Va.-based Dublin Farms.
“The retailers will work with the Virginia Department of Agriculture, and the department of agriculture will provide in-store display materials that say ‘Virginia Grown’ on banners, cardboard display setups that catch the consumer eye,” Hickman said.
A similar program works in New Jersey, too, said Bob Von Rohr, director of marketing and customer relations with Glassboro, N.J.-based Sunny Valley International Inc.
The New Jersey Department of Agriculture’s Jersey Fresh program, he said, provides a big sales boost.
“They provide many area retailers with Jersey Fresh banners and locally grown banners to promote at store level to capitalize on the locally grown aspect of the marketing end,” Von Rohr said.
The Jersey Peach Council brings cooking demonstrations to retailers, and the Peach Queen goes to stores for product demos, Von Rohr said.
“We have point-of-sale material, Web-based ads and billboards to get the word out,” he said.
Fill-ins are a good source of sales revenue, too, said Russell Brown, salesman with Oak Grove, Va.-based Parker Farms.
“We’ve got a lot of advantage of where we are to help keep the supply chain moving,” he said.
Direct store deliveries also help, said Curt Fifer, sales director with Fifer Orchards in Wyoming, Del.
“We’re in Delaware, close to D.C. and Baltimore, and that allows us to ship them the next day,” he said.
Consistent supplies help keep regular ad placements going, too, said Steve Balderston, operators of Colora Orchards in Colora, Md.
“If we have a large volume of peaches and we can let them know three or four weeks ahead when they’re coming, then they’ll usually work with you,” he said.