Westward Ho!

Companies in Idaho and Washington State are spreading the message of the area’s unique produce through social media and websites.

By Carol Radice

Odds are that not even Marshall McLuhan—the man known for coining the term “The Global Village” in the ‘60s—was aware of the extent that technology would alter our way of communicating, even about such down-to-earth topics as produce.

While store-level messages remain the core communication strategy for most shippers, suppliers, packers and produce associations, the Internet is playing an increasingly important role in a company’s ability to promote new products, engage consumers with coupons and contests and create brand awareness, among other marketing efforts.

Retailers are also benefiting from the flexibility and convenience of the web as more produce companies and commodity boards make marketing materials accessible online.

Here’s a look at how some companies in Idaho and Washington state are using the web to build brand awareness and the role social media is playing in produce marketing.

Brett Burdsal, marketing manager for Columbia Marketing International, based in Wenatchee, Wash., says the Internet has been an instrumental aide in CMI’s ability to reach consumers and build awareness of new produce varieties. While it has served them well, Burdsal notes CMI’s website, cmiapples.com, which was initially created six years years ago as an information hub for consumers, was recently redesigned. CMI will be debuting its new website at this year’s PMA show.

“Technology is another tool which enables us to focus on building our brands and educating retailers as well as consumers. The Internet makes it possible for us to talk to our customers in a way we cannot in the store,” says Burdsal.

When company officials decided to revamp the website, the goal was to simplify navigation and maximize its relevance to retailers and consumers to provide a clearer path to consumer- and retailer-specific information. “Within two clicks people should be able to get to where they need to be, but at the same time the page will also show them other items we offer,” says Burdsal.

Aimed at retailers, the Smart Marketing section provides comprehensive details regarding POS materials and educational information available through CMI.

Cameo Apple Marketing Association
Like a number of organizations working with a tight budget, officials at Cameo Apple Marketing Association note that the Internet offers a cost-effective way to engage consumers and retailers.

“As we explore our options, it is clear that technology has been an important part of the solution and a worthwhile investment for produce companies such as ours,”  says Kevin Precht, marketing program director for the Wenatchee, Wash.-based association.

Visitors to Cameo Apple Marketing Association’s website can find a variety of information, from recipes to an interactive map to help them locate retailers selling Cameo apples. Precht says the group also has a presence on YouTube. Twitter and Facebook.

In addition to the consumer-oriented information, other sections of the website are aimed at offering retailers and shippers information such as POP material, logos and pre-built ads.

Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion Committee
Sherise Jones, director of marketing for the Parma, Idaho-based Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion Committee, says there has been many changes for the group this year in terms of its marketing efforts on the web. After researching possible opportunities that matched its goals and budget, the group focused its efforts in two areas—social media and revamping its website.

“To go direct to consumers is very costly, particularly for commodity groups, but the Internet really stood out as the best choice,” she says.

The group looked to Facebook as a way to expand its online presence. “We debuted our Facebook page in the spring and to date we have been very happy with the response to our first project, our Facebook Fan Recipe Contest,” says Jones.

Jones says the committee is also excited about the potential of QR codes—short for quick response—which allow people with smart phones to learn more about an item simply by using their phone to take a photo of code printed on the item.

Jones says the software can be customized to yield user-specific information such as location, gender, income and age range.

Chelan Fresh Marketing
With sales and marketing responsibilities for more than 400 fresh fruit growers, officials at Chelan Fresh Marketing, based in Chelan, Wash., say websites and social media have been influential in getting the word out to a wide audience about the region’s apples, pears, cherries and stone fruit.

A plethora of health-related information can also be found on the website ranging from study findings to nutritional facts about fruit to information geared toward moms and the importance of incorporating fruits into their children’s lives.

Chelan Fresh Marketing is also involved with social media. A YouTube video provides viewers with a first-hand look at how cherries go from field to packaging .

Litehouse Foods
Paul Kusche, vice president of marketing and innovations for Sandpoint, Idaho-based Litehouse Foods, says the company’s online efforts are carefully coordinated with its overall marketing strategy.

“As a company we believe it is essential to treat our online strategy as an integral part of our marketing efforts and allocation of dollars and absolutely critical to incorporate this technology into our overall strategy of building awareness and brand recognition,” says Kusche. “This technology is going to be as important as running an FSI.”
According to Roxie Lowther, director of marketing media, users can click on balanced-options.com and 30salads30days.com sites from the company’s corporate site, litehousefoods.com.

“Our Balanced Options page is all about getting the health message out that our vinaigrette pourable dressing line is made with healthy ingredients such as canola oil, are under 100 calories, have less than 10 grams of fat and most are gluten free,” says Lowther.

At 30salads30days.com, Lowther says consumers can sign up to receive a different salad recipe every day for a month. “We’ve also added a number of other things such as a lunch club, chef clips, and tips from a registered dietician,” she says.

On the social media side, Stacey Orlando, who handles national promotions for Litehouse, says the company’s goal was to engage people using a variety of interactive strategies.

Walla Walla Sweet Onion Marketing Committee
Officials at the Walla Walla Sweet Onion Marketing Committee, based in Walla Walla, Wash., say the Internet has helped the commodity board get the message out that the Walla Walla Sweet Onion has been named the official Wash­ington state vegetable.

“We’ve looked at a variety of communication tools and the Internet clearly helps us get the most bang for our buck,” says Kathryn Fry, director of marketing. Fry says the committee considers sweetonions.org one if the primarily tools for promoting its commodity and the annual Sweet Onion Festival.

Fry says the immediacy of the Internet, she notes, helps the organization quickly address questions from retailers and consumers. “For retailers, there is an array of interesting material/graphics on the site—facts for food service, information/education about the industry in general, and info about our marketing order,” says Fry, noting that retailers can also use the website to see what kind of POP material is available and how to acquire it.

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