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New Promotional Campaign Announced, Value of the Florida Tomato Crop Continues to Decline

The Tomato Magazine
October 2007

By Sandy Lindblad Lee

NAPLES, FL—Florida tomatoes may soon be elevated to celebrity status alongside many wildly popular food personalities if the Florida Tomato Committee’s (FTC) new marketing campaign achieves the success that Samantha Winters believes is attainable.

Winters, director of education and promotion for the FTC, outlined the strategies to be implemented to boost demand and sales of the state’s tomatoes throughout the 2007-08 Florida tomato season. The FTC’s new campaign, which includes partnering with the Food Network and Borders Group Inc., were rolled out during its annual meeting on Sept. 6. The gathering was part of the variety of business and social events during the 32nd Annual Florida Joint Tomato Conference, held in Naples at the Ritz Carlton hotel.

A key component in the television promotions will be implied endorsements through “12 celebrity chefs from the most powerful network on Cable TV,” Winters emphasized. “Our new campaign is exciting, is aggressive and is completely unprecedented.”

With FTC’s consumer media television advertising budget to be shifted exclusively to the Food Network, the message will have higher impact, she predicted. Four 15-second commercials to be aired include one that is newly created through SenaReider, the Monterey, Calif.-based ad agency retained by the FTC. The remaining three existing spots have been utilized by the committee the past two years on the Food Network and several other cable stations.

The new commercial’s message is designed to persuade consumers to visit their supermarkets and purchase Florida tomatoes, not merely for their rich fl avor, nutritional value, and versatility but
because of an added perk this season. Florida tomato purchasers will also receive a coupon that can be redeemed at one of over 1,000 Borders, Borders Express or Waldenbooks stores nationwide for
25 percent off the best-selling cookbook, Food Network Favorites: Recipes from our All-Star Chefs.

The 192 television spots will be seen by the Food Network’s 53 million viewers.

Complementary retail support will be offered through point-of-sale kits which feature posters and other display materials which help draw attention to the coupon offer. The FTC will also utilize a
retail merchandising team to help initiate and assist with execution of in-store promotions. Two merchandisers will focus their efforts on the East Coast, with a third calling on Midwest outlets. At least
15,000 point-of-sale kits and about 3.7 million coupons will be printed.

“This fully-integrated campaign will help reach our primary demographic group but will deliver more effective point-of-sale execution,” Winters stressed. “The news about our new campaign will also create a ‘halo effect’ and free P.R. The high value we are offering to the consumer will generate trade excitement and will drive retail traffic,” she predicted.

Winters also noted that past Florida tomato promotions were “always more spring-oriented,” but this year’s program will kick off Dec. 17 and continue through mid-May.

Research Results Outlined
Food safety, sanitation and handling, methyl bromide alternatives, new tomato variety breeding and whitefl y disease management were the priorities addressed through research funded, in part, by the FTC during the past year. George Hochmuth of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food & Agricultural Sciences presented the research report during the FTC annual gathering.

A study remains in progress on salmonella and the specific process it goes through as it gets into the roots of the tomato plant and is ultimately transported throughout its vascular system. Relating to methyl bromide, on which the Florida tomato industry still heavily relies, Hochmuth was not optimistic that a viable alternative will be developed. In the future, a mixture of different approaches will be necessary, he said.

Reggie Brown, FTC manager, reported that the research committee approved the allocation of nearly $253,000 to fund eight research projects for 2007-08. A remaining portion of research reserves has been designated “for a study on waste stream management at packinghouses dealing with wastewater and fl ow management in an environmentally sound way.”

Also during the FTC annual meeting, the group voted to maintain the initial regulations and marketing policy already in place for the upcoming season.

In an interview with Tomato Magazine following the meeting’s adjournment, FTC Manager Reggie Brown said a primary focus of the committee during the upcoming season will be “an aggressive effort to be pro-active in the food safety area.” Brown also noted the declining value of the Florida tomato crop in recent years. Over the past three seasons, the state’s tomato industry has experienced a $260 million drop in crop value. Referring back to 2004-05, the industry sold round tomatoes “under a federal marketing order here in the state for a value of about $663 million,” Brown said. That amount dropped to $492 million in 2005-06, with a devastating hurricane season compounding the losses.

Without hurricanes to blame for last season’s decline, tomato values again dropped and sold for a total of $404 million.

“With production and fuel prices continuing to rise, it will be crucial to have a much more profi table 2007-08 season,” he said. In addition to the FTC meeting, the annual gatherings for the Florida Tomato Exchange and the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange were conducted on Sept. 6.

Other highlights of the conference included the Florida Tomato Institute on Sept. 5. Among the topics of the reports relating to ongoing research were disease and pest control in tomatoes, marketing issues and development of new tomato varieties.

© 2007 Columbia Publishing

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