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California Giant embraces social media

While many produce companies are thinking about developing a social media presence, California Giant Berry Farms in Watsonville, CA, has embraced new forms of engaging with customers on-line, and the results have been rewarding.

“We’re having so much fun, it is amazing,” said Cindy Jewell, director of marketing for California Giant, which already has more than 8,400 fans on its company Facebook page. “It’s got a life of its own out there. Watching every day as the numbers tick up, the people who ‘like’ us on Facebook, is really fun. What’s really fun is watching consumers talking to each other. Who knew?”

On the Facebook page, readers send in favorite recipes, photos of their families with California Giant strawberries, enter contests, vie to become “Fan of the Week” and chat with each other and company representatives.

The secret to successful interaction on-line is to provide information of value in a user-friendly setting, Ms. Jewell said.

“We have a lot of different stuff going on to keep them coming back. You’ve got to give them a reason to come, some value, and you have to get them to come back,” Ms. Jewell said. “It’s more like a platform we’ve provided for people to engage about some of their favorite foods and how they feed their families and ways to incorporate berries into a healthy lifestyle. We’re loving every minute of it.”

California Giant also uses its web presence to promote its “cause marketing and charitable concerns in hopes of generating some interest in folks [assisting others] in their own hometowns,” Ms. Jewell said.

“We knew this was not like other marketing vehicles in that you don’t simply deliver a message and talk to people, you have a conversation. You’ve got to open up to the consumer. We’re laying ourselves out: this is who we are and this is what we’re all about. Sometimes people might say a negative thing, but for the most part they’re supportive and sharing. It’s about being accountable. You have to go into this knowing you are accountable for everything you send out the front door,” Ms. Jewell said.

Meanwhile, after a slow start due to cool, rainy weather, California Giant is now well into its fall strawberry deal.

“I think we’re finally into that summer pattern,” Ms. Jewell said. “Volume will be steady until September from this area and Santa Maria. You’re not going to see any huge peaks or valleys; it’s all leveled off. And what it is, is what it’s going to be. We don’t have an Oxnard deal, we stick with Watsonville, Salinas [CA] and Santa Maria [CA], and then our Florida and Mexico deal kicks in in the winter. We purposely don’t have the Oxnard deal — we don’t want to compete against ourselves — we stick with the northern districts all the way to the end. It’s worked out well for the company and our individual growers. They really don’t get into any kind of profitability until the end of the season. The guys up here come in when it’s already going great guns from the south and fall is when they finally get into the black.”