SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Consumers are finding it easier to spot homegrown foods in supermarkets around the state, thanks to new signs bearing the "California Grown" label appearing on everything from grapes to Gerbera daisies.
The signage is the latest component of the unprecedented statewide campaign, announced last year, that brings together retailers, growers and representatives of 25 diverse commodity boards. With $25 million in funding, campaign leaders hope to encourage more consumers to support the state's myriad growers producing food as well as flowers, fiber and forest products.
"It is ambitious," Scott Horsfall, chief operating officer of the Buy California Marketing Agreement, told SN. "I think our groups from the beginning were unified in terms of what we were trying to accomplish. The farm economy in California has been under the gun for a number of years."
While all parties agreed on a goal -- boosting sales of California-grown products -- the hard part was determining a specific course of action to achieve the target, Horsfall said. Extensive research indicated consumers prefer to buy homegrown products, but when they go shopping, that preference isn't top of mind. "We knew we had to close that gap," Horsfall said.
Support from retailers was crucial, and organizers found both large and small supermarket companies were more than willing to use the blue California license-plate logo in weekly circulars. Now they are starting to use point-of-sale materials and signs, too, Horsfall said.
"We've been really happy with the support of the retail segment in the state," he said. More signs and logos are on the horizon. Grape growers in the Coachella Valley will add the "California Grown" label to more than 30 million bags of table grapes. Officials also were preparing to roll out new price lookup stickers for growers to use on products.
The campaign, funded for two years with industry support, as well as state and federal government program funds, kicked off in August with a flurry of TV ads. Four 30-second, TV commercials in English and Spanish, aired in nine markets throughout the state. Each commercial encourages consumers to support the California economy by looking for and buying agricultural products grown in the state.
Early reports suggest the message -- that buying California products will keep the state economy humming -- is hitting its mark. In fact, a new statewide study, commissioned by the Buy California Marketing Agreement and conducted by Boca Raton, Fla.-based Rose Research, showed 44% of consumers who could recall "California Grown" advertising said they actually were buying more California agricultural products now vs. six months ago, compared to just 19% of those who were not aware of the ads. The survey of 1,000 consumers was carried out in December, and consisted of telephone interviews.
The survey also found:
75% of consumers said they're inclined to buy California agricultural products, up 8% from the responses received during a survey to gather benchmark data, conducted prior to the campaign's launch, in March 2002.
37% of consumers said it is important to purchase California-grown products, up from 23% in March 2002.
Officials find those results encouraging, particularly since the campaign is in its infancy. "We're changing consumer attitudes," Horsfall said. "We're getting them to look for [California] products."
The study's findings are backed up by reports from retailers.
"We hear our customers telling us that they think it's important to support California's economy by purchasing California-grown products," said Craig Allen, senior vice president of marketing for Boise, Idaho-based Albertsons.
"Buy local" campaigns promoting a state's bounty have been developed elsewhere. Organizers in California took a look at some of the other programs but, in the end, developed a campaign for California that reflects the uniqueness of a state that's home to a multitude of diverse agricultural producers, Horsfall said.
The campaign is attracting new partners, too. Dairy and poultry groups signed on this year, and Horsfall sees plenty of room for more players. "We hope to bring every agricultural industry on board in the state," he said.