Gary Black, Georgia’s former agriculture commissioner, says producers and retailers should look to branding as the future of selling produce.
Black, now a founding and managing partner of On Point Strategies consulting firm, has a number of produce-producing clients, including Lake Park, Georgia-based Corbett Brothers Farms.
The company has been producing fruits and vegetables commercially since the early 1970s, according to its website. In 2013, the business planted its first satsuma orange tree and launched the Besties Citrus brand.
Black cited Corbett Brothers’ growth as a citrus producer as an example of the power of brand development.
“There’s a great potential for…increased production in citrus in Georgia,” Black said. “The Corbett family has committed to developing a brand – not just growing oranges, they’ve committed to a brand.”
Building the Besties Citrus brand has involved creating partnerships with retailers of varying size alongside local school systems.
“We’re building relationships with retailers,” Black said. “To go to retail, you’ve got to be far more than a commodity these days. You have to have a brand. You have to do something that will tell consumers that you focus on, are committed to high quality [produce] and … from an American consumer standpoint, there’s brand loyalty on a very high number of consumer items.”
According to Black, tapping into that trust is the only way smaller farmers will be able to compete with larger brands. Independent retailers can capitalize on new brands by building relationships early.
“[Consumers] trust the manufacturer, they trust the quality of the product,” Black said. “And the Corbett family have felt – and I agree – in order to build in the industry, the most important building block is the brand.
“We’re in the very early stages of building the citrus industry in Georgia. [Branding] has allowed them to expand production and the involvement of other growers. It’s paid off for them. I think it’s paid off for retailers as well.”
Black continued by noting that one of the first places producers can begin in branding is saying, “I am a food producer, not just an orange producer.” Essentially, they should strive to market themselves as more than a commodity.
“I think producers who approach their marketing strategy are wise to do so.”
The Georgia Grown brand was one of Gary Black’s top priorities when he took office in 2012. A division of the state agriculture department, it is a marketing program designed to help grow agribusinesses in categories such as produce, forestry products, horticulture, livestock and seafood.
Companies pay an annual licensing fee to use the Georgia Grown trademark on their products. At the time that Black left office, the program brought in about $200,000 a year, all of which was invested back into it, he said.
Black attributed the program’s success to consumers’ desire to connect with food.
“Going back 12 years ago, we’d come through a period of time where we’d had a greater focus by the consumer on folks wanting to know where their food comes from,” Black said. “People today want to have a relationship with their food and with the person producing it.”
Georgia Grown created the link for producers to show they are a local company and also that they followed Black’s motto of being more than just a product.
“When [consumers] saw the Georgia Grown brand, they knew it was quality. They knew it was local. They knew it was from a data-driven company,” he said.
Produce producers should also get creative. Black recalled an early partner of the Georgia Grown brand, Godfrey’s Feed in Madison.
“Because they are an 80-year-old Georgia company … They saw the value early. And that just helps build the relationships. When the consumer and a producer have good relationships, that means good business and good food for everybody.”
Read more produce news from The Shelby Report.