Commentary: Program works to expand impact of CA GROWN

Issue Date: April 19, 2017
By Cherie Watte
Cherie Watte
Supporters of the California Grown marketing program say conditions facing the California asparagus business illustrate the need for shoppers to seek out and buy California-grown food and agricultural products.

California Grown started the buy-local movement 15 years ago. At that time, imported products encroached on our markets, farmers were barely profitable, regulatory pressures continued to grow and our own neighborhood markets were buying and selling products grown elsewhere.

These challenging conditions are similar or worse today. California asparagus farmers struggle with a huge surge in imported product eroding our markets while contending with the challenge of implementing a new wave of government regulations that are certain to decrease their bottom line.

What is currently occurring in the California asparagus business perfectly illustrates the need for a strong call to action for Californians and Americans to support California-grown asparagus and other agricultural products we are blessed to grow in this great state.

In addition to increased foreign competition, California asparagus producers, like many others in California, continue to absorb the costs of increasing regulatory requirements. The most recent layers of regulation to challenge the labor-intensive asparagus business include minimum-wage increases and new agricultural overtime payment requirements. California farmers continue to meet the demands of the regulatory community while maintaining focus on caring for the land they rely on to produce what is regarded as some of the finest quality agricultural bounty in the world.

California Grown is the only marketing organization that supports all California agriculture to market our desirable products to a receptive consuming public. Since 2001, California Grown has facilitated ongoing growth in the sales and consumption of products from California farms, ranches, forests and fisheries. Funded by public and private contributions, CA GROWN consists of 26 agricultural organizations and more than 100 individual brand members, representing approximately 15,000 agricultural producers.

Since its inception, CA GROWN has worked hard to foster collaboration and collaborative marketing among its members and all of agriculture. Early CA GROWN efforts focused heavily on retail and foodservice promotions. During the last decade, decreased funding started to affect the organization's relationship with retail and food-service partners. However, during the 2014-15 fiscal year, CA GROWN sought to rekindle those relationships as well as non-traditional partners to help expand the impact of CA GROWN programs.

CA GROWN's first non-traditional partnership came with the California Travel and Tourism Commission, or Visit CA. In 2013, CA GROWN, in partnership with Visit CA, launched the successful "Always in Season" campaign using Specialty Crop Block Grant funding. This campaign not only generated 60 million media impressions in its first year, it brought CA GROWN products to an entirely new audience via social media platforms and a well-received video series about California farmers. The partnership continues to produce results that far exceed targets. Visit California's annual budget is now more than $100 million, and the impact of its support allows CA GROWN efforts and programs to have an impact globally as well as in local markets.

Following the fruitful partnership with Visit CA, the CA GROWN board and staff began to rekindle relationships with the retail and food-service sectors and secured a partnership with the California Grocers Association, which came to life in 2015 with a large CA GROWN activation at the CGA annual convention.

CA GROWN brand members report frequent feedback from customers, thanking them for producing locally and communicating clearly where their food comes from. They share a pride in California agriculture. Brand members report that in the last three to four years, amplification of CA GROWN promotions resulted in a number of retail commitments to supply CA GROWN products including: Raley's, Albertsons, Whole Foods, Sam's Club, Wal-Mart, Costco, Safeway/Vons, Bristol Farms and Gelson's. During the first few weeks of spring, I personally receive daily inquiries from loyal customers asking when and where they can find fresh California asparagus in their markets. Prominent, clear branding of California-grown products helps people identify them quickly.

Recent marketing survey results indicate a strong demand for the "CA GROWN" brand. The study shows consumers have great respect for and want to specifically support local farmers, as well as California agriculture in general. The consumer research indicated that 59 percent of California consumers purchase agricultural products specifically because they are from the state. In addition, 59 percent of California consumers have seen, read or heard about "CA GROWN," meaning California Grown is a recognized brand.

To increase the impact of California Grown marketing and awareness efforts, the Buy California Marketing Agreement and Assembly Member Jacqui Irwin, D-Thousand Oaks, are pursuing Assembly Bill 1163, which would allocate $3 million in matching grants to the Buy California Marketing Agreement. This would allow state funds to leverage federal and private investment with matching grants to grow the program for both specialty crops and other California commodities such as beef, dairy, poultry and eggs. The funding would also allow for expansion of the scope of collaborative partnerships to promote healthy, California-grown products to a wider variety of potential consumers.

CA GROWN branding is a unique and effective way to support an exceptional group of California farmers and producers by encouraging consumer requests and purchases of California-grown products, and we are committed to continuing our efforts to enhance that consumer awareness.

(Cherie Watte is executive director of the California Asparagus Commission and chairs the Buy California Marketing Agreement/CA GROWN.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.