News / Press Releases
The Produce News
'Goodness Grows in North Carolina' at Dept. of Ag
This article originally appeared in the May 31, 2004 issue of The Produce News and is reprinted with permission.
By Christina DiMartino
It is common for state agriculture departments to develop and fund programs that promote fresh fruits and vegetables grown in the state. The North Carolina Department of Agriculture, however, spreads its marketing wings even further and aims a few feathers toward the wholesale market with NC Fresh
Link. The program began three years ago, and today it continues to grow and develop.
"NC Fresh Link was previously called the North Carolina Fresh Connection," said Jeff Jennings, manager of domestic marketing programs, a division of the marketing arm of the department. "It is a division of 'Goodness Grows in North Carolina,' the official marketing program for state-grown fresh fruit and vegetables. But NC Fresh Link markets specifically to foodservice operators and retailers wherever we can reach them in the country." Beginning in 2004, the department began a monthly newsletter program. It mails full-color, formatted literature to individuals involved in any wholesale sector of the produce industry who sign up to receive it. Mr. Jennings said that produce buyers from all types of companies have subscribed, including produce directors at chainstores and military foodservice managers. The newsletters currently go out to about 450 people throughout the United States and Canada, with most located in the eastern United States.
"The newsletter offers previews of what produce items from North Carolina will be available in the following month," Mr. Jennings said. "Information includes how the products are packaged, where they are grown, how the current season appears to be unfolding for each commodity and more." The "more" also includes some fun items. Mr. Jennings said that a monthly "Fax-Back" contest gives recipients an opportunity to win a prize if they are, for example, one of the first 20 people to fax a form included in the newsletter back to the department. The prizes are modest, but desirable, such as coolers and pocketknives. Occasionally, they will offer a prize of higher monetary value, such as a quality duffle bag. The department is now experimenting with themed newsletters. Watermelons, as an example, will be represented heavily in an upcoming newsletter to help promote North Carolina's crop.
Funding for NC Fresh Link programs, including the cost of producing the newsletter, come from a set marketing budget that the North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services sets aside annually for the division. In some instances, if NC Fresh Link engages in larger, more expensive campaigns, a commodity association may contribute to the funding in an attempt to help promote its commodity.
"We feel the newsletter is a major success," Mr. Jennings said. "Our measuring stick is the high response we get from the monthly contests. We are also pleased with the variety of people who fax them back to us, and the geographical locations they come from - like four or more states away." Mr. Jennings said that as the department progresses through the summer and toward the end of the state's growing season, he plans to include a survey in the newsletter to determine how helpful the recipients find the information provided to them and their businesses. He feels that it will substantiate the many stories he hears from retail produce buyers and foodservice operators about how helpful the newsletter is. The department promotes the newsletter on its web site and through a mailing list that is updated continually. Goodness Grows in North Carolina does many other promotions that include all fresh commodities grown in the state, with the focus placed on items produced in significant volumes.
"We begin with strawberries in mid-April, which kicks off our promotional campaign every year," Mr. Jennings said. "In June, we move into white potatoes and blueberries. Cabbage promotions are scheduled for early May and June. Squash and cucumbers run from early June through the end of the summer.
"Right after July 4, we begin promoting melon varieties, including watermelon. These run from mid to late August," he continued. "We then go into the fall season with grapes, apples and fall vegetables." The department aims campaigns, other than NC Fresh Link, at consumers in an effort to increase general consumption. One of the Goodness Grows in North Carolina efforts is in the www.ncfarmfresh.com web site, which is devoted to promoting "pick-your-own" farms to consumers, and helps them locate participating operations and roadside stands.
"We are also currently engaging in a major television campaign across the state," Mr. Jennings said. "The commercials promote our web site, and consequently the Goodness Grows program. The messages also promote the consumption of locally grown produce."
The television commercial campaign, which includes nine separate spots, is drawing a lot of attention from a wide variety of age groups because of its nature. The same actor is used in each. He depicts Barney Fife, the Andy Griffin character, who was the Mayberry Police deputy on the Andy Griffith Show, which ran from 1960 to 1968. The actor uses the familiar characterization to help sell North Carolina's fresh produce offerings. "It's a touch of lighthearted fun for adults who remember the television show and for children because he has an adorable demeanor," Mr. Jennings said, adding, "Everyone loves him."