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.