Grower-shippers in the Mid-Atlantic traditionally have gotten marketing boosts from state departments of agriculture across the region.
The Maryland Department of Agriculture’s Maryland’s Best program generally is considered one of the most diversified among the state efforts, and this year is no exception, said Stone Slade, a marketing specialist with the department, who directs Maryland’s Best.
“We’re doing quite a bit of advertising with radio and also sponsoring events, as well,” he said.
Maryland’s Best has been involved with the Baltimore Orioles in the past, and plans are being developed to make the program visible at Orioles baseball games this season, Slade said.
“I anticipate we’ll do more with the Orioles,” he said.
“We did a watermelon day sampling and signage last year, and (also) last year, we had signage behind home plate, which was not only well received by consumers, it was a point of pride for the industry, as well.”
There are seasonal promotions, too, Slade said.
“We’re creating marketing materials to give our growers, including price cards, as well as banners,” he said.
Maryland’s Best will have a booth for the first time at public radio station WTMD’s First Thursday Concert Series at Canton Waterfront Park in Baltimore, Slade said.
“At the booth, we’ll probably incorporate samples, and we’ll have materials,” he said.
There will be the usual seasonal promotions, as well, Slade said.
“We just got done with strawberries and will be moving into our Buy Local Challenge, promoting locally grown products — not only fruits and vegetables, but that is the focus,” he said.
“Chefs submit recipes and select the top recipes, and chefs prepare them at a cookout that the industry is invited to at the governor’s house.”
During the Buy Local Challenge Week, July 22-30, residents are urged to eat at least one locally grown product every day, Slade said.
Maryland’s Best also is planning to work with the Maryland Vegetable Growers Association on marketing materials and signage for stores, he said.
Maryland’s Best typically receives about $100,000 in U.S. Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Grant money to help fund its activities, Slade said.
“It goes toward our events and our buyer expo, where we have 65 farmers and buyers come in during January at the Naval Academy’s football stadium,” he said.
Retailer farm visits are part of the program this year, Slade said.
“One of the main things we do is help make the connections,” he said.
Maryland’s Best is doing an in-store signage program with Harris Teeter stores, with the help of distributor Produce Source.
“There will be a picture of a farmer’s family, a short bio and the Maryland’s Best logo,” Slade said.
“We’re looking to partner with some more grocery stores on that.”
In Virginia, the Virginia Department of Agriculture’s Virginia Grown program gets behind tree fruit and other agriculture products with retailers across the state, said David Robishaw, regional marketing specialist.
“We do more to help promote more direct-marketing activities,” he said.
Virginia’s department has been putting farm tours together for perhaps 20 years, said Butch Nottingham, marketing representative with Virginia’s agriculture department.
“It’s very effective, because we get a lot of business when buyers come out and meet the growers and see the process,” Nottingham said. “It makes a huge difference.”
It helps, said David Hickman, vice president of Horntown, Va.-based Dublin Farms.
“The Virginia Department of Agriculture has set up meetings to put growers together with major chains in the state to basically make an introduction between grower and chain stores and give growers contact,” he said.
Nottingham said each state in the Mid-Atlantic region has its own interests, but some marketing efforts cross state lines.
“It’s been done a long time that way,” he said. “Of course, I’m more loyal to Virginia, but we all get along. We all have to work together and do a pretty good job.”
State promotions help growers across the region, said Kevin Evans, president of the Mar-Del Watermelon Association.
“Maryland has been very, very outgoing. Delaware has stayed right there,” he said.