Fresh from Florida program helps farmers move product
by Chip Carter | April 07, 2010
In South Korea, thousands of people sat down to a breakfast of Florida pink
grapefruit this morning. Earlier this year, thousands more in Ireland got a
taste of sunshine in the form of Florida strawberries. In fact, due in large part
to the Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services' decade-old
Fresh from Florida marketing campaign, millions of consumers regularly
enjoy Florida produce in 15 countries around the world all year.
The program began inauspiciously in 2000 with a small campaign to judge
consumer interest in Florida tomatoes. That test drive put Florida produce on
ad in 298 stores.
By last year, the Fresh from Florida program placed product in 416,000
individual ads for more than 10,000 stores, representing dozens of retail
chains in 15 countries.
Somebody is pounding the pavement.
"We're out there doing it. We have a good crew and a lot of things have
happened in that time period," said Dan Sleep, a supervisor and senior
analyst for the FDACS. "We went out in 2002 and met directly with category
buyers around the U.S., and that propelled us into different categories
immediately. We began to develop a lot of different avenues -- win a vacation
to Florida, or contests, or direct incentive programs. And by the end of 2002,
the program included about 5,000 stores."
Not only did the Fresh from Florida program get product in stores, it also
made Florida produce a branded mainstay in chain and individual store ads.
In the 1990s, Florida's marketing approach was much different. Without a
coordinated effort, Florida produce moved on reputation and availability.
Typically, store ads would highlight one or two Florida products in campaigns
that ran for about three weeks.
"As we went out, we were teaching retailers when product was available and
providing different incentives -- not just to the Publix of the world but a
Bravo down in south Florida or a Fortinos up in Canada with 20 stores, or a
Metro, or Sobeys with hundreds," Mr. Sleep said. "We reached out to a lot of
different stores to see what it would take to get them to put our products on
ad and put the Fresh from Florida name in their circulars. At the same time,
what we were trying to do was get them to build up their ads, ads they
wouldn't ordinarily run. While that was going on, we skyrocketed individual
In 2001, the Fresh from Florida program had deals with four retail chains
running storewide promotions. By 2004, that number had jumped to 18. In
2008, the number hit 32. This year, the state is working with 40 retail
partners representing more than 10,000 stores in 15 countries.
"So now instead of a Publix or Kroger going on ad two or three times and
maybe not making much of an impact on us, retail stores are running Fresh
from Florida 30-something times a year, which is enough to move a lot of
product," Mr. Sleep said.
Prior to 2002, the Fresh from Florida program was featured in about 5,000
individual store ads a year. Success from early efforts led to more financing,
and by 2002, the program appeared in 22,000 store ads. By 2004, that
number was 165,000. Last year, the Fresh from Florida logo was featured in
413,000 individual store ads.
So how does that increase in visibility correlate with Florida produce sales? In
2003, Florida strawberries were featured in 5,800 store ads and the industry
tallied sales of $129 million. By 2008, the strawberry program was in 24,000
ads and sales had soared to $249 million. This year's preliminary numbers
show 25,000 ads and $313 million in revenue. "We're keeping a lot of
pressure on the product, and we have a lot of understanding of where that
product is going," Mr. Sleep said.
In 2001, Florida watermelon sales were $42 million -- down from $72 million
just three years before. In 2002, the Fresh from Florida program stepped in
and placed 2,100 store ads. Sales rose to $62 million. By 2008, Florida
watermelons were in 11,000 store ads and sales topped $140 million. The
state watermelon growers association has turned over primary marketing
efforts to the state program.
Blueberries are another success story. "When we started working with them,
they were one of those little niche products that really hadn't ever done much
in Florida," Mr. Sleep said. In 2001, revenues were less than $12 million and
had never been higher. By 2003, the program had Florida blueberries in
several hundred-store ads, and the market grew to $18 million. For the last
few years, blueberries have been featured in 4,000 to 6,000 ads annually,
and sales have soared to $73 million.
The Fresh from Florida program's efforts have resulted in volume and price
increases for the state's growers. "I'll take either, but it's nice when you can
get both," Mr. Sleep said.
In 2003, Florida strawberry farmers moved 13 million flats of product; last
year, that number was 20 million. In 2001, Florida growers got 5.7 cents a
pound for a 740 million-pound watermelon crop; by 2008, that price was 16
cents per pound for an 860-million-pound crop.
Mr. Sleep is quick to note that the marketing efforts would be for naught
without consistent, high-quality product to back them up.
"Never discount growers putting a great product out there. Without that, we
can't do anything," Mr. Sleep said. "The farmer has continually produced
superior product; they have not stumbled or missed a trick in that process.
These guys are expert at protecting their product and the quality of it and
getting it to market without flaw -- the controlled chain of command is
The Fresh from Florida program features 12-15 core commodities, along with
dozens of niche products. It is now common to see as many as six Florida
products featured in a single ad. The program also helps introduce new
products, like the Florida Sweet peach, a new cultivar that entered the
marketplace in 2008 and is gaining market traction. "There are lots of
opportunities in Florida, and we're just sitting here looking for them and
trying to help when we can," Mr. Sleep said.
"Building strong retail partnerships throughout the world has substantially
altered our ability to directly assist and influence decisions to feature Fresh
from Florida agricultural products from Tallahassee to Toronto," Mr. Sleep
said. "Building upon a solid agricultural economic foundation creates jobs
and infuses millions of additional dollars into our tax base."