The highly successful "Fresh from Florida" branding campaign pushed by Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam will be expanded internationally to help grow export markets for the state's fresh fruits and vegetables.
Putnam will soon appoint a Fresh from Florida advisory council that includes growers and marketing experts to focus on specific ways that exports can be increased into targeted markets overseas.
Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services already operates a well-established marketing program that promotes exports, which will total about $4 billion this year. About $1 billion of that is sales to Canada.
In recent years, exports to relatively new markets that still have tremendous growth potential have increased significantly, said Dan Sleep, supervisor/senior analyst in FDA's division of marketing and development.
For example, over the last five years, sales to the Bahamas have increased 26 percent to $178 million, sales to the Dominican Republic have increased 50 percent to $154 million, and sales to Sweden have grown 37 percent to $3.7 million.
Other markets have grown at even faster rates. Sales to South Korea have reached $42 million, up 90 percent. Sales to Panama have grown 113 percent to $143 million. And sales to Singapore have increased to $18 million, up a whopping 157 percent.
FDA and its marketing partners, such as food distributors and retailers in 20 countries around the world, have developed a comprehensive and sophisticated program that includes the development of business-to-business relationships and the creation of marketing and sales promotion efforts that are constantly evolving. For example, in South Korea, FDA has spearheaded the use of point-of-purchase retail displays and advertising on local TV and the Internet to dramatically increase grapefruit sales after they remained flat for 10 years. Now FDA is looking at opportunities to grow blueberry and strawberry sales.
Dan Richey, president and CEO of Vero Beach-based grapefruit grower-packer Riverfront Packing Company, praised Putnam and the FDA for their efforts to breathe new life into an export market that had been in decline since hurricanes and other factors, such as currency exchange fluctuations and protectionist tactics in some foreign markets such as Europe decimated his company's overseas sales almost a decade ago.
"There was a time when we were shipping 12-million cartons to Japan, two and a half million to Taiwan, 600,000 to Korea and 9 million to Europe," said Richey, a former chairman of Florida Department of Citrus who now sits on the board of Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association. "Today those numbers pale in comparison. We are currently shipping under 4 million to Japan, 38,000 to Taiwan, just under 300,000 to South Korea, and under 3 million to Europe."
However, Richey said, exports still represent 80 percent of Riverfront's business, meaning that he has to work harder to gain market share that gives him a bigger slice of a smaller pie. "That is the only way we have maintained our growth," he said. "So now we need to grow the pie. We have always worked closely with FDA and been part of their export programs, but especially since Commissioner Putnam has been there. He has taken it to the next level."
Based on recent history, Richey said, he is confident that export markets will continue to recover and grow.
"I believe there are now opportunities for many of the agricultural products grown in Florida," he said. "And on the citrus side, I think we have reached bottom and are starting to creep up a little bit."
For example, for Riverfront, the European market was up 4.2 percent last year. On the other hand, Japanese sales were down 19 percent.
Nevertheless, Richey said, he believes that Putnam brings a unique combination of vision and skill sets to his role as agriculture commissioner. "And what he has done with the 'Fresh from Florida' brand is a good example of that," he said. "It gives us an opportunity to grow because Florida is recognized throughout the world. We need to maximize the potential of that awareness so that when consumers think of things like grapefruit, they think of Florida."
In turn, Richey said, the state's growers need to embrace the expanded export opportunity.
"Growers need to understand that the marketplace for agricultural products has become global," Richey said. "And if you don't think globally, it will make it difficult to maximize the return on your investment. The global market poses challenges, from shipping to guarantees of payment. But it's well worth the effort to pursue foreign markets. And if we can use the 'Fresh from Florida' branding to go out and grow our businesses, that is a good thing for us and for consumers around the world."