Digital Initiative Tapped to Boost Florida Citrus Consumption

Digital Initiative Tapped to Boost Florida Citrus Consumption

Even before Hurricane Irma took a chunk out of this season’s citrus crop, the Florida Department of Citrus (FDOC) has been managing declining budgets because of falling production due to HLB. Florida Grower® magazine asked Shannon Ross Shepp, FDOC Executive Director, how the agency is working in the tight financial situation.

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How has Hurricane Irma and continuing effects of HLB impacted the operating budget of the FDOC?
Shannon SheppShepp: HLB has had an impact on every facet of our industry, and the FDOC is no exception. With production down, our commissioners made moves in recent years to provide relief to growers through decreases in the department’s box taxes. This, along with smaller crops, has meant a significantly reduced budget for the FDOC. Some of this budget decrease has been offset by general revenue funding from the state, allowing us to continue the robust marketing programs we currently have in place, for which we are very grateful. This, coupled with some fiscally conservative planning in recent years, means we also are not likely see a decrease in budget due to Hurricane Irma but will instead use the fund balance to bring us to where we expected to be this season pre-Irma.

What are some steps FDOC has taken to operate within the new budget constraints?
Shepp: Over the past few years, the department has taken steps to reduce overall budget without compromising our ability to effectively market and promote Florida citrus. These steps include building an internal team capable of juggling multiple responsibilities as well as choosing agency partners who are well-equipped to guide us through the ever-evolving digital marketing landscape. While it’s true that moving away from television advertising allowed us to operate on a reduced budget, it also makes the most sense for the audience we are trying to reach. Our target audience of Millennial moms are not watching traditional television commercials but are instead tuning into social media, blogs, and streaming services for information and entertainment. That’s why we have shifted primarily to the digital space, where we are able to be more creative, nimble, and precise in who we reach. It also enables us to make creative decisions on the fly.

How is FDOC moving forward with marketing efforts in the coming year with the dollars available?
Shepp: We are continuing to focus on targeting Millennial moms in the digital space, but we are taking it a step further. We are creating dozens of compelling short videos featuring recipes, tips, and other useful content to attract consumers to our website for much less than we used to sink into TV advertising. Then we are able to retarget those same consumers with harder messages on the health benefits of Florida citrus, essentially building a relationship with them so that they feel good about sharing our products with their families and friends. We also are looking at new avenues to reach consumers, such as incorporating our products and messaging into meal-kit delivery programs or with online grocers.

How can citrus growers help in marketing and public relations efforts?
Shepp: Florida citrus growers are already some of the best advocates we have. They are passionate and dedicated, they believe in the industry, and stand behind the fruit they grow. We currently feature them in videos we share with Millennial moms on social media and online, allowing consumers to meet the people who grow their food. We need growers to continue to share their story with anyone who will listen. Consumers largely don’t understand agriculture or where their food comes from. Growers need to continue to educate consumers and raise awareness so that when our industry does struggle, like with Hurricane Irma, more people understand why they should care or help.

How important is creative marketing given the current situation facing the FDOC and the citrus industry as a whole?
Shepp: There’s a lot of noise out there so thinking “outside-the-box” is crucial. Fortunately, we have a lot of great things to talk about and new technology available to us. From raising awareness of hesperidin (an antioxidant found in citrus that is making waves among health and wellness influencers) to testing new concepts with Millennial moms, and then fine-tuning them to fit our needs, there are endless opportunities available for us to promote and market Florida’s signature crop to consumers around the world.