In February, the Gulf Coast Research and Education Center hosted its annual strawberry field day, which drew a crowd of around 200 people. In addition to field trials showing the latest research in new varieties, insect and disease management, and freeze protection, a grower panel on marketing was featured. Participating were Gary Wishnatzki, Wish Farms; David Spivey, Spivey Farms; and Mark Greeff, Driscoll’s.
Not surprisingly, one universal among the growers on the panel was that quality and food safety has to be mission one. Moderator Ted Campbell, executive director of the Florida Strawberry Growers Association, discussed with the growers how they strive to make their product stand out in a competitive marketplace.
Real Red And Local
Spivey represented the small grower perspective on the panel. He, his father, and brother run a 45-acre operation in Plant City. “My dad built the farm as a local farm, and locally, people want red strawberries — real red,” said Spivey. “They don’t want something that has shoulders, so we carry that over into packing and that is what we are going to pack. Yes, we are aware of the issues that come with packing really red strawberries. We had a lot of trial and error for a few years, with lot more error in the first couple years.
“People at first see them and say, ‘Oh that is overripe.’ So I have to be real selective on my market. I don’t have any chains bigger than 10 stores, but I would say 99% of the year we are sold out. We’ve built up customers a pallet here and a pallet there and they understand our strawberries are blood red.”
Campbell noted that Spivey has done a good job of connecting its brand to Florida’s strawberry identity. On Spivey Farms’ packaging, the official mascot of Florida strawberries “Jammer” is featured, along with the Fresh From Florida logo.
Wishnatzki said his company had recently re-branded its product line. In doing so, he conducted considerable consumer surveys to help with better positioning. In the survey, hardly any consumers could name a brand unaided, other than Plant City, which is not a brand. “We took that survey finding as significant, so when we redesigned our packaging, we made Plant City more prominent on the label,” says Wishnatzki. “We are trying to identify ourselves as East Coast and local.”
Reaching out to consumers has become more important than ever. Uses of new technology and social media are enabling the grower to break through the retail level into the consumer’s home. Strawberry growers hope these new approaches will result in the consumer asking the retail buyer to purchase their brand. Greeff noted that Driscoll’s now has more 70,000 likes on its Facebook page. “If you look at our page over the past two weeks (prior to Valentine’s Day), it has all been about desserts and strawberry cocktails for Valentine’s Day. It’s not just the idea of chocolate covered strawberries for Valentine’s. We are driving the potential for new consumption that will drive the retailers to have more strawberries in stock and perhaps even challenge the price point as well.”