Carolina consumers who want to eat fruits and vegetables grown close to home have plenty to choose from, marketers say.
“We’re the third most diverse state, agriculturally, after California and Florida,” said Tommy Fleetwood, marketing supervisor with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and executive director of the North Carolina Potato Association.
Consumers have responded to programs such as the department’s Got to Be NC program, Fleetwood said.
“Of course, the local movement is big for all sectors of the produce industry, and potatoes fall right into that same category,” he said. “Our department of agriculture works with the retail chains to help promote the local North Carolina-produced product.”
The department has agents in its Raleigh office who work directly with retail buyers, Fleetwood said.
South Carolina takes a similar approach, with its Certified SC Grown program, said Matt Cornwell, marketing specialist with the South Carolina Department of Agriculture.
“The Certified SC Grown program has gained a lot of traction over the past few years, and we really feel it’s being embraced by the growers, retailers and consumers,” Cornwell said.
On the retail side, Cornwell works with companies to ensure the Certified SC Grown logo can be found in the stores, so consumers can readily find locally grown product, he said.
For restaurants, South Carolina agriculture officials have launched a program called Fresh on the Menu, complete with a free app to help consumers locate restaurants who source product locally, Cornwell said.
While “locally grown” has various definitions, each department of agriculture in North Carolina and South Carolina define local as grown in-state.
“Our Certified SC Grown program only promotes South Carolina-grown items obviously, but we find value in working with neighboring states to ensure consumers can have the freshest products,” Cornwell said.
“It seems South Carolina and North Carolina complement each other when it comes to a lot of fruit and vegetable crops, and our timing works well.”
Growers and shippers in both states say local is an important part of their business plans, although how big varies from supplier to supplier.
“We are currently local suppliers to several retailers, and we think it’s important because the goal is to shorten the distance between the farm and the consumer, which, in the best case scenario, gets folks more in touch with agriculture and gives them a better knowledge and appreciation of what farmers go through to get their food from the field to the consumers’ tables,” said Kim Kornegay-LeQuire, vice president of Princeton, N.C.-based Kornegay Family Produce.
The local deal comprises only a fraction of the company’s total sales, but it’s important, Kornegay-LeQuire said.
“It is something we think is right to invest in,” she said.
Chris Rawl, president of Clayton Rawl Farms Inc., Lexington, S.C., said local sales are a good resource and keep product moving at a good return price.
“Our retailers are calling on us, especially the ones where local is in the state, trying to work with us to keep this program alive and promoting it,” he said.
Ridge Spring, S.C.-based Titan Farms LLC participates in all retail locally grown programs and does a lot of farm-direct, as well, but about 90% of sales are to distribution centers, said Chalmers Carr, owner and CEO.
“But we have a full marketing team where they do ‘know your farmer’ programs,” Carr said. “That’s the one thing about having our own sales team — we’re the grower, packer, sales and shipping organization.”
Candor, N.C.-based Johnson’s Peaches relies heavily on local retail sales, said Barbara Johnson, who owns the operation with her husband, Garrett.
“We do a lot of business locally. Everything we have is sold right here,” she said.
Faison, N.C.-based Farm Fresh Produce Inc. sells a lot of its bell peppers and squash locally, said Bethany Malcolm, vice president.
“Local retailers want to display a picture of the farmer with a small biography/description, which is nice,” she said.