Commentary: California Grown program embraces the state’s brand


Issue Date: March 19, 2014
By Chris Zanobini

Chris Zanobini

California Grown started the buy local movement more than 12 years ago. Competition was fierce, imported products were flooding our markets, farmers were barely profitable, regulatory pressures continued to grow and our own neighborhood markets were buying and selling products grown elsewhere. How could this be? Where was the support for the local people who were shopping in their stores, the people who were working harder than ever before to produce a safe, affordable, abundant source of food, fiber and flora?

The California agricultural community was fed up. We needed to bring attention to the fact that the farmers next door were dealing with a market dynamic that overlooked the products they were producing because retailers chose price and profit over any other factors.

The Buy California Marketing Agreement was organized in 1993 through the efforts of a number of California commodity groups, the California Department of Food and Agriculture and several key, influential leaders in state and federal government. The agreement was well thought out, and a strong group of agricultural organizations came together and initially completed a feasibility study to determine what the program needed and how it should be organized.

The program started off well-funded with $20 million and a commitment from the state Legislature of $5 million per year for three years. With more than 20 signatory organizations, California Grown was off to a great start.

One might look at the blue-and-gold logo and say, "How did they ever come up with that?" The development of the California Grown brand and the identifier was and has been instrumental to the success and longevity of the brand. Many thought the California Grown logo should be a cornucopia of agricultural products, produce, flowers and sunshine, everything California. What was developed was absolutely brilliant—a classic, uniquely California moniker that could and has transcended across products, is fun to wear and, most importantly, screams California. More than a logo, it is the driver, the identifier and has served as the framework for the program since its inception. Be Californian—Buy California Grown!

The program was off to a great start with a strong foundation, excellent market and consumer research, and a marketing and advertising campaign that was impactful. With the help of a celebrity governor, a strong team on the ground and the push by California agriculture, the California Grown program was making a difference. The California Grown logo was being put on products in supermarkets, in restaurants, and at garden and lumber retailers. The advertising campaign called consumers to action, it asked Californians to make a conscious choice of what they purchase and where it is from. The campaign helped illustrate that when you buy a product from California, you are doing more than just buying a product: You are embracing California, the farmers, the teachers and the lifestyle we enjoy. The retail trade was educated and there was change in the availability of California-grown products in our California stores and beyond.

There is no doubt that California is a brand within itself, and the California Grown program and California Grown products started to receive greater attention across the country and in international markets. The program has been the backdrop for a number of international trade missions to Japan, China, Mexico and Canada. Everyone wants to experience California and the best way to do that is to buy California Grown products.

The energy and resources put behind the California Grown brand provided an incredibly strong foundation for a sustainable program that exists today. The program continues to evolve and has been successful in maintaining the integrity behind the California Grown brand. Over the last 12 years, the Buy California Marketing Agreement has adjusted to the needs of its members and to a program that is focused on keeping the brand front and center and to ensuring that our customers and our consumers continue to make informed decisions. Over $30 million has been put into the California Grown program in California and in export markets. These programs have kept California Grown products in front of consumers and have helped California agriculture be successful.

Change is inevitable, and the BCMA has recently made a number of changes to its organizational structure to enhance the opportunity for more of California agriculture and its organizations to come to the table so that you can get involved.

These changes are instrumental to protecting the integrity of what California Grown stands for and to enhance the long-term sustainability of a program that has proven to be successful during the Davis, Schwarzenegger and Brown administrations.

What’s next for the California Grown brand? BCMA has teamed up with the folks at Visit California to secure a million-dollar grant to promote the California Grown brand and California agriculture. In 2012 alone, tourists in our state spent $28.5 billion on food and wine. The campaign, "California, Always in Season," will reach 60 million consumers and drive awareness and preference for our brand, California Grown.

(Chris Zanobini is executive director of the California Pear Advisory Board, a member of the Buy California Marketing Agreement.)

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