Ways of the West

For years Idaho and Oregon have been delivering high-end produce to grocery retailers across the nation.

By Elizabeth Louise Hatt

Produce growers in the Northwest may disagree on who grows the best produce, but one thing they do agree on is that Idaho and Oregon are some of the best places to grow it.

With so many produce growers throughout the area, retailers can have a hard time deciding who to turn to when stocking their shelves. Commodity boards such as the Idaho Potato Commission (IPC) and Oregon Potato Commission (OPC) are there to help—even if they do not always agree.

The IPC has developed the Idaho brand based on the quality of products. Rich volcanic soil, abundant water supply and unique mountain desert climate with warm days and cool nights make it an ideal place to grow potatoes, says Seth Pemsler, vice president of retail and international.

Industry observers agree as the Idaho Seal has become one of the most recognized icons worldwide. “When retailers don’t carry Idaho potatoes, consumers notice,” says Pemsler. “Retailers who carry them are communicating to consumers that they carry the best. And when retailers carry the best potatoes, shoppers will believe they carry the best of other produce.”

The Eagle, Idaho-based IPC is sending the message to retailers that by carrying Idaho potatoes they can charge more. “There are Idaho shoppers just like there are organic shoppers, and the fact that we cost $0.50 more is not an issue. A lot of consumers will happily pay an extra 15% to 20%,” says Pemsler. “The national campaigns we conduct reinforce that at the consumer level, which actually helps at the retail level. Shoppers are going into stores looking for the Idaho Seal.”

Neighboring Oregon capitalizes on varying conditions throughout the state to produce different varieties of potatoes. The OPC is working toward identifying water, soil and climate differences throughout the region. “We want to identify different taste characteristics between potatoes of the same variety grown in different regions,” says Bill Brewer, executive director of the OPC. “This way we can offer the consumers descriptions of the potatoes so they can choose one from a region depending on its taste profile.”

It’s not all about potatoes. Manufacturers of onions, pears and even dressings and dips make the most of their Idaho and Oregon roots. Here is how they strive to stand out from the crowd.

Coupon craze
Litehouse Foods has found online success with digital FSIs and coupons. “Coupons are so popular right now in this economy. For the past three years we worked with Coupons, Inc. to send digital FSIs in support of our retail partners’ websites and opt-in consumers,” says Stacey Orlando, national promotions manager.

Mobile marketing is next on the company’s marketing to-do list. The Sandpoint, Idaho-based company branched into mobile marketing through Quick Response (QR) codes along with creating a mobile site for www.30salads30days.com, which offers an e-newsletter featuring a different salad everyday.

Customer care
Differentiation is the name of the game at Wilcox Fresh, based in Rexburg, Idaho. The company differentiates itself in the retail and foodservice marketplace by working with customers to help them develop strategies to stand out in their local market. “We have a lot of produce industry experience at Wilcox. We are able to put on our ‘retail hat’ and ‘customer shoes’ and go into the store to look for ways to help it stand out against the competition,” says Jim Richter, executive vice president of sales and marketing. “We are committed to being good listeners to our customers. By staying flexible to their wants and needs we are able to tailor our materials and tools to help the customer be more successful. Our game plan is to stay the course to help them achieve their goals and grow the category.”

A new look
The latest marketing tool at Brooks, Ore.-based Curry & Co. is its website, www.curryandco.com, which is geared toward retailers and other partners. Some of the features included are crop updates, press releases and the  company blog, as well as a sign-up for monthly newsletters about the company’s range of products.

“At this point we’ve focused our attention on the retail side of the world versus the consumer side. Providing a strong resource for our customers helps us continue to develop business with them—it becomes part of our ongoing business dialog as partners instead of a mere vendor,” says Matt Curry, president.

The power of stardom
The Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion Committee is welcoming a new celebrity face and a new website for its Spanish Sweet Onion promotions. Olympic Silver Medalist Jeret “Speedy” Peterson from the U.S. Ski Team will be featured in the 2011-2012 campaign, All-American Winners, on www.usaonions.com. A “Cooking with Speedy” video introduces visitors to the site, who will then be able to enter online weekly drawings and request point-of-sale materials.

“Both the members of the committee and Jeret have integrity, courage and passion for what they do, as well as a ‘go big or go home’ attitude,” says Sherise Jones, the Parma, Idaho-based committee’s marketing director. Retailers can meet Speedy at PMA Foodservice at the end of July and PMA Fresh Summit in October.

Education system
The biggest hurdle for the Pear Bureau Northwest is educating retailers and consumers about pear ripening. “Our research shows that only 15% of pear consumers know how to tell when a pear is ripe and that means a lot of consumers are missing the chance to eat their pears when they’re at their peak,” says Cristie Mather, director of communications. To teach retailers and consumers about ripening the organization has developed educational promotions and point-of-sale materials with the “Check the Neck for Ripeness” message.

In addition to in-store displays and advertisements, the Portland, Ore.-based organization spreads its message through social media, its blog “The Pear Dish” and mobile applications using QR codes. To further its reach online, last year the Pear Bureau partnered with the popular food and recipe website www.Epicurious.com to host a pear recipe contest for consumers as well as add USA Pears branded channels to the Epicurious iPhone and iPad applications.

Sign-on success
Potandon Produce’s web platform is a key player in the company’s marketing approach. With active accounts on key social media sites as well as mobile applications, company officials speak regularly with the end-user of their products—and consumers like it. “We receive outstanding reviews of our online customer service and a lot of word-of-mouth recommendations from our users,” says Barbara Keckler, consumer marketing coordinator for the Idaho Falls, Idaho-based grower/shipper.

Better yet, officials say it has helped sales. “By carefully refining our techniques over the last few years, we can now create and implement very effective online events and show real sustainable increases in sales,” says Ralph Schwartz, director of value-added marketing and category management.

In the heart of it all
A third-generation, family-run farm, Southwind Farms is nestled next to the river in the middle of Idaho’s fertile land in Heyburn, Idaho. The farm is one of the only Fingerling growers in the area. “This in itself helps us stand out because we don’t do Russet varieties,” says Robert Tominaga, president. The farm’s location near the interstate makes it easy for the company to sell loads of specialty potatoes to Russet shippers.

Tominaga says carrying the Grown in Idaho seal gives his product a lot of credibility. “Retail and food service people know the Grown in Idaho brand and it gives them a little more quality assurance,” he adds.

Market expertise
Wada Farms’ program with Dole helps it stand out against the competition, says Chris Wada, director of marketing for the Idaho Falls, Idaho-based company. “Wada Farms Marketing Group is the exclusive marketer of Dole Fresh potatoes, onions and sweet potatoes in North America,” he adds.

Category Partners, Wada’s retail business development arm, also offers the company a unique advantage. “We bring our customers analytical data, marketing and merchandising strategies and insights along with recommendations to improve sales and profits,” says Bob Meek, CEO of Wada Farms Marketing Group. 

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