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Innovative programs help promote bounty of Georgia produce

Promoting Georgia produce is something Georgia Agricultural Commissioner Gary Black seems to enjoy very much.

“We are so very pleased with the progress made with the ‘Georgia Grown’ branding program, it is being requested by a number of large chains now,” said Black.

The Georgia Department of Agriculture’s “Georgia Grown” program for promoting Georgia produce goes beyond produce, according to Black.

“One of our differences from other state branding programs is that producers, restaurants, processors, wholesalers, anyone involved in the food industry can use our logo,” he said. “It’s about promoting Georgia-grown business.”

10-Summerfruit-RJOPoint-of-sale material in the produce department of a Kroger store carries the ‘Georgia Grown’ logo and promotes local growers. The Georgia Department of Agriculture has done some internal studies that revealed consumer want to buy local and are willing to pay more for locally grown produce. (Photo courtesy of the Georgia Department of Agriculture) The way it works is that when a company becomes a participant in the program, it gets an annual license to use the “Georgia Grown” logo in their own marketing strategy. Each business is free to bring their creativity into the “Georgia Grown” branding process and that helps pull together the whole industry.

The department is organizing a symposium to show businesses how to use the “Georgia Grown” logo.

“That is how we promote the program across the industry,” said Black. “We try to empower the growers so they can incorporate this brand within their own brand, we don’t inventory stickers.”

The deputy director of marketing for the Georgia Department of Agriculture, Matthew Kulinski, pointed out that Georgia has a diversified produce industry and needs to take advantage of the great agricultural bounty.

“We want to make sure consumers are aware, ” Kulinski said. “One way we are doing that in certain retail stores is by having a biography and picture of the farmer that grew the produce right beside the item.”

The biggest promotions to date have been at the retail level in Harvey’s Grocery stores and Kroger.

“The key focus is promoting locally grown items and easily identifying them to the consumer at point of sale,” Kulinski said.

Kulinski said the Georgia Department of Agriculture has done some of its own internal studies that have shown that consumers want to buy local and are willing to pay more for locally grown produce. Published reports in South Carolina and Arizona have also shown that consumers prefer to buy local produce.

In Georgia many consumers are easily able to buy local produce unless they are buying something like oranges that are not grown in Georgia.

“Georgia is in luck in comparison to non-agricultural states,” said Kulinski. “The benefit of being in Georgia is that it produces a lot of produce. Wherever you buy product it most likely will be local.”

A new innovative project to promote Georgia produce, called the “Georgia Grown Test Kitchen,” is also in the works. The Department of Agriculture has identified 10 schools across Georgia where the program is being tested. Students at those schools try recipes created specifically for the schools by top Georgia chefs. The recipes are based on when those vegetables are available in Georgia.

“We are teaching schools how to prepare the produce and doing survey work with students based upon what they liked,” said Black. “Depending on student reactions to the food, the department then went back and tweaked those recipes. They are pulling all these proven recipes together and will introduce them this coming August to all schools across Georgia.

Kulinski said, “In the fall you’ll start to see them in a lot of school menus,” said Kulinski. “This program aims to link all the schools with the local producers. We came up with test recipes for menu items made with local produce, not only to see how difficult they are to prepare in the kitchen, but to see how students like it.”

The Agriculture Department said that the program will help to educate school nutrition directors that may be used to handling processed products on how to prepare and how to buy local produce, with the hope that schools will increase fresh produce purchases.

“If they are used to getting a highly processed product, they may be concerned about whether fresh product would work in their kitchens and if it meets the school nutritional guidelines,” Kulinski said. “The program is showing the schools how to make recipes that fit the school’s nutritional guidelines and are easy to buy.”

Another successful program that helps promote Georgia Produce is the “Georgia Grown Executive Chef” program, which is in its fourth year.

“This program works with the Georgia Restaurant Association and names four chefs across the state that are opinion leaders, and those chefs work on Georgia-grown recipe development and media promotion.

“This is a step beyond traditional promotion, reaching out to the leaders in the industry,” said Black.