Agri Leader

‘Fresh from Florida’ export sales hit $4.1 billion

Agricultural exports under the “Fresh from Florida” marketing program developed and run by Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) increased to $4.1 billion in 2013.

FDACS now has formal relationships with 39 international retail chains representing 4,389 stores in 27 countries, said Dan Sleep, supervisor and senior analyst in the department’s division of marketing and development.

The retail initiative, which began in 2000 with 298 stores in Florida, expanded to international sales in 2002.

For 2013, the two biggest export crops were strawberries and tomatoes, Sleep said.

That international success is important because growers of both commodities face ever-increasing competition from international producers such as Mexico and Chile. Expanding export sales is one key way for Florida growers to offset that competition and continue to increase total annual sales.

The fastest-growing major markets with more than $50 million in annual exports between 2009 and 2013 are South Korea, Germany, Chile, Brazil and Colombia.

The largest year-over-year sales increases for markets with more than $20 million in 2012 exports were Hong Kong, up a whopping 60.9 percent; Colombia, up 43.1 percent; Peru, up 39.l percent; Germany, up 34.2 percent, and Russia, up 24.3 percent.

The top 10 destinations, which accounted for 55.9 percent of total exports, are Canada, Netherlands, Bahamas, Dominican Republic, Panama, Mexico, Colombia, Trinidad and Tobago,

Venezuela and Jamaica.

A critical factor is FDACS’s success has been its aggressive promotion of “Fresh from Florida” branding. “That’s what we rally around and advertise with,” Sleep said. “It has now been incorporated into every aspect of what we do.”

In turn, the ability to have their products easily branded in a way that has growing international recognition and appeal is one of the key benefits to growers who get involved with FDACS marketing efforts. “It gives the products instantaneous recognition and instantaneous acceptance,” Sleep said.

The next most important benefit to participating growers, Sleep said, is sophisticated market intelligence data. “We have a lot of information at our fingertips about the market situation in each country and about the retailers that operate there,” he said. “But the real benefit, I think, is that we have established relationships with these retailers, which means that the growers do not have to spend the time and resources to develop those from scratch.”

That is particularly important to smaller growers who have the ability to produce high-quality products, but do not have marketing departments that can efficiently generate international sales, Sleep said.

A third benefit is cooperative representation at major international trade shows such as PMA, SIAL and Anuga. Based on demand, FDACS buys a large block of exhibit space to serve as a centralized “Fresh from Florida Pavilion” and then subcontracts fee-based portions of it to individual growers.

A growing number of Florida producers are finding value in an export sales relationship with FDACS.

“We participate with them a great deal in these program,” said Joel Sellers, international sales manager at citrus juice marketer Florida’s Natural Growers, which has worked with FDACS for eight years.

Chris Barranco, manager of the company’s international sales department, said, “We have a

limited budget, so the combination of the [general support] from the state and the ‘Fresh from Florida’ branding helps us sell our products into other markets. It helps promote Florida products in general. And since we have the ‘Florida’s Natural’ name on our products, that really works well.”

FDACS also sometimes approaches specific producers with active market leads. For example, last year they approached Florida’s Natural Growers about an opportunity to sell packaged grapefruit juice to the Outback Steak House chain in South Korea for eight months of the year when fresh grapefruit is not available. “They knew we were already in the market,” Barranco said, “so they said, ‘Why don’t we work together on this to sell more Florida product in South Korea?’”

The deal is now being negotiated.

As a result of such success stories, FDACS is now being even more aggressive in its outreach to growers, Sleep said.

“We have looked at and reached out, in a very formalized way, to farmers across the state -- much more so than we have in the past,” Sleep said. “We have a dedicated team in place that goes to and participates in many of the state’s industry events, whether that’s one hosted by the Blueberry Association or Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association (FFVA) or nursery growers. That means they don’t have to hunt for us. We’re out there hunting for them.”