With a diverse landscape that spans from several mountain ranges and forests to active volcanoes and a vibrant coastline, the Pacific Northwest has long been known as one of the most geologically rich areas in the U.S. From the Pacific Ocean to its west and the Rocky Mountains to its east, the region experiences a variety of climates—featuring wet winters and sunny summers, warm days and cool nights—making it a prime location for producing fruits, vegetables, meat and seafood.
The Pacific Northwest—which generally includes the states of Oregon, Washington and Idaho, and sometimes Northern California, Alaska and British Columbia, Canada—has a long history of growing tradition in which its native residents take pride. It is the farmers, growers and ranchers who continue to uphold the region’s reputation for producing some of the nation’s most sustainable, high-quality and fresh products. By providing proper information through retail partnerships and promotions, companies based in the Pacific Northwest have developed strong customer loyalty for the produce and protein that comes from the area.
A Preference for Premium
According to a recent survey conducted by Hudson Pacific, a public opinion research company based in New York City, consumers seek out “better-for-you” foods, regardless of the price. They view antibiotic-free, hormone-free and humanely raised meats as higher quality, and 83 percent of consumers would be more likely to shop at a grocery store that offers these types of products. And while the survey found that “better-for-you” foods appeal to all consumers, young adults ages 18 to 35 are more likely to seek out quality meals and do not mind spending more for them.
“One of the biggest trends we’ve witnessed from both the sales side and consumer preferences has been the shift away from a commodity product and towards a higher-end, branded product,” says Jay Theiler, executive director of marketing at Agri Beef Co. “The consumer sees the value in consistency and quality, which results in brand loyalty.”
Agri Beef, based in Boise, Idaho, provides premium beef to retailers and restaurants under its Snake River Farms, Double R Ranch Northwest, St. Helens and Rancho El Oro brands, and exports its products to more than 30 countries. The family-owned company’s ranch-to-table approach ensures its involvement through every aspect of beef production, which has helped to build its strong reputation among retail customers and consumers alike.
“Over the last few years, we’ve seen significant growth in higher quality grade products, such as Angus, Prime and American Wagyu,” Theiler says. “Specifically, cuts such as the T-bone and Ribeye have seen increased popularity over last year with the consumer base seeking that better eating experience. Along with higher demand for quality in whole muscle cuts, we’ve also seen great success with our better burger concept of high-quality blended grinds using Double R Ranch and Snake River Farms American Wagyu Beef.”
Similarly, produce company Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers has experienced growth with its apple line due to an explosion of new, high-quality apple varieties in the last year. Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers, based in Wenatchee, Wash., has grown cherries, apples and pears, as well as organic apples for more than 80 years. The company also offers stone fruit, citrus and grapes under its Diamond Starr Growers and Starr Ranch Organics brands. For the summer season, Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers is promoting its new Koru and Honey Crisp varieties, with availability through August.
Previously the nation’s No. 1 apple, Red Delicious is now the No. 4 most popular apple, surpassed by Honey Crisp, Gala and Pink Lady, according to Dan Wohlford, national marketing representative at Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers. Consumers avidly seek out the Honey Crip’s high quality and exceptional flavor, and they do not mind paying a bit more to have it. It is a relatively expensive apple—$2.99 per pound compared with the rest of the category, which costs around $1.49-$1.99 per pound, says Wohlford. Despite the price, sales volume continues to rise.
“When the quality and flavor is there, pricing becomes a secondary issue. If you buy that Honey Crisp apple and it was just fantastic, you go back next week to buy more of them and you probably don’t remember how much you paid for it, but you remember it was good,” says Wohlford. “If you buy that apple or something else and it didn’t taste good or it went bad, you’re going to go back to the store and say, ‘I paid $2.99 for this.’ You’re going to remember how much you paid for it.”
Consumers’ desire for premium, high-quality food spans from land to sea. Pacific Seafood, based in Clackamas, Ore., provides high-quality fresh and frozen seafood to the foodservice and retail channels through sustainable fishing practices, with plants stretching from Alaska to Mexico.
“Retailers and consumers alike are looking for fresh solutions in healthy seafood that are local, wild, all-natural, sustainable and easy to prepare,” says Tyson Yeck, director of sales, North America at Pacific Seafood. “Customers are clearly wanting easy, healthy products they can take home and prepare simply for themselves, their friends and their families.”
Pacific Seafood boasts its use of in-house labs, portside inspections and product and process quality assurance evaluations every two hours, providing premium, sustainable seafood to its customers. Drawing on consumer trends toward healthy, fresh food, the company delivers its product to retailers within one day of it being caught.
“The biggest opportunities remain in managing a safe and fast supply chain of fresh or fresh frozen products direct to our customers,” Yeck says. “Our fishing boats, in some cases, are out leaving the docks at daylight, returning later that afternoon with fresh fish. We’re processing it into products, like fillets or portions, in our local plants and then we have it in route being delivered to stores the following day. It’s that fresh and incredibly fast. The opportunity for grocers to participate in this type of ‘farm-to fork’ or ‘boat to throat’ movement is very exciting.”
Freshness and sustainability are not the only draws toward a quality product. According to the Organic Trade Association’s 2017 Organic Industry Survey, organic sales in the U.S. totaled around $47 billion in 2016, up $3.7 billion from the previous year. Organic food now accounts for more than 5.3 percent of total food sales in the nation. Organic produce is the largest of the food categories, accounting for nearly 40 percent of all organic food sales, while sales of organic meat and poultry increased by more than 17 percent in 2016.
Particularly, organic apples are growing at twice the rate of conventional apples, with sales volume up 5.7 percent compared with conventional apples, up 2.4 percent, according to Wohlford. Growers are taking note of this trend and transitioning conventional orchards to organic and planting new organic orchards. Though both processes take about three to five years before the orchards become profitable, Wohlford adds, Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers aims to stay ahead of the organic trend and keep up with consumer demand.
“Organics is going to be the biggest opportunity [for us],” says Wohlford. “There are always apple orchards that are positioning from conventional to organic because the growers recognize that popularity as well. So, they’re transitioning some of their conventional orchards into organic and some are planting organic orchards from the get-go.”
Pears are also experiencing growth in the organic sector. According to the Pear Bureau Northwest’s first official fresh pear crop estimate for 2017-2018, the organic pear estimate is at 1.12 million standard boxes, 6.4 percent of the total Northwest crop. Though this number is 5.5 percent lower than last year’s season, it shows a 10.5 percent growth over the five-year average for the region.
“As a commodity, crop size really is the best predictor of sales potential and growth or decline each year,” says Kathy Stephenson, communications director, Pear Bureau Northwest, representing the USA Pears brand based in Milwaukie, Ore. “Our crop has been down two years in a row, but profit for retailers is still strong in a year of lower availability.”
The Pear Bureau Northwest is a non-profit marketing organization dedicated to promoting, advertising and developing markets for fresh pears grown in Oregon and Washington, with distribution under the USA Pears brand. Oregon and Washington are the nation’s largest pear-producing region, providing about 84 percent of all fresh pears grown in the U.S., according to company officials.
Cultivating the Consumer
The Pear Bureau Northwest’s estimate for the overall fresh pear harvest is at 17.6 million standard equivalent boxes, down 2 percent than the 2016 harvest and 10 percent less than the five-year average. But despite the smaller crop this year, USA Pears is reporting an excellent pear crop quality that can still result in increased sales. By working with top- and mid-sized retailers, the company plans to run promotions and educate consumers on pears’ nutritional value.
“For pears, we believe the growing discussion and culinary excitement with fiber-full foods will create a pear moment,” Stephenson says. “The top three nutrients and ingredients of interest to consumers are protein, fiber and whole grain foods. Pears have more fiber per serving at 6 grams for a medium pear than the top 20 fruits by sales volume in the produce section. That makes the pear category aligned with healthy food trends.”
The Idaho Potato Commission also utilizes promotions to boost sales and educate consumers on potato varieties. Like the Pear Bureau Northwest, Idaho Potato Commission is a marketing and advertising company for the Idaho potato industry. Jamie Bowen, marketing manager at the Eagle, Idaho-based company, says one of its biggest challenges is overcoming consumers’ inaccurate belief that potatoes are unhealthy.
“It’s not the potato – it’s what you add to them,” Bowen says. “Our annual Potato Lover’s Month display contest is a fantastic retail promotion for the produce managers to be involved in. I think the biggest opportunities now would be the growth in variety potatoes, which don’t necessarily cannibalize the traditional russet sales. Since they often have different usages, you can increase overall potato sales by promoting varieties along with russets.”
Earlier this year, Agri Beef launched a free online education resource, “Ranch to Table,” to provide an in-depth view of beef’s lifecycle. Designed as both a classroom tool and for personal development, the course consists of four modules that offer a comprehensive look at ranching, cattle feeding, beef processing and grading, and beef fabrication and distribution, according to company officials.
Providing product education is key to driving sales. Hudson Pacific’s consumer survey found that simply offering healthful, high-quality products is not enough to attract consumers. Though they are noticing improvements in the fresh category, consumers attribute these improvements to consumer demand rather than company leadership, with only 44 percent believing that brands can improve the quality of food in the U.S., and 66 percent believing that consumers can have a significant impact. Not only must companies provide these products, but they should educate consumers on their efforts, practices and products.
Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) does exactly that. Based in Juneau, Alaska, ASMI is a public-private partnership between the State of Alaska and the Alaska seafood industry with the mission of increasing the economic value of Alaskan seafood through marketing programs and sustainability. Alaska supplies nearly 60 percent of all seafood and 90-95 percent of wild salmon harvested in the U.S., according to company officials.
ASMI hosted its third annual Alaska Herring Week, from June 19-25, where grocers showcased unique dishes and products featuring Alaska herring. This year’s number of participants doubled to nearly 60, providing consumers an array of opportunities to learn about and sample a variety of herring products.
“I founded this event three years ago when I discovered that not only was herring unavailable in Seattle, but none of the local fishmongers really knew that, and the public was unaware, too,” says Lexi of Old Ballard Liquor Co., founder of Alaska Herring Week. “Once I found out that the Puget Sound herring stocks had silently crashed a full decade ago, I decided that it was an important cultural and ecological issue that deserved some attention.”
Alaska herring is one of the largest, most abundant and sustainable fisheries in the world, but has largely disappeared from U.S. markets. ASMI’s Alaska Herring Development Project has coordinated Alaska Herring Week to re-introduce the fish into the Seattle area’s culinary scene.
“For anyone in the fishing industry, sustainability is a constant issue. At the other end, consumers don’t really think about the environmental toll of over fishing a couple of big-ticket species or limiting their choices at the supermarket by only eating salmon and halibut,” says Lexi. “You can’t just tell people to care about their environment—you have to show them. Since people care about the environment their food grows in, what better way than to show them how versatile and delicious herring can be?”
ASMI also kicked off the 2017 Lenten season with a national 50-cent cash-back offer for 102 different frozen Alaska pollock products through Ibotta, an app-based cash rewards platform that handles both the rebate offer and redemption. Ibotta rebates were valid in 142 U.S. grocery retailers, including Walmart, Kroger, Albertsons/Safeway, Hy-Vee, H.E.B. and Publix, as well as club stores including SAM’s Club and Costco.
“The Ibotta app was a new platform for us,” says Linda Driscoll, retail marketing manager for ASMI. “We were really excited about the opportunity to target millennial consumers. Through the Ibotta program, we engaged consumers with a poll on reducing their environmental footprint. Eighty-two percent of users responded that they would eat Alaska Seafood more often if it reduced their environmental impact.”
Spokane, Wash.-based Yoke’s Fresh Markets, which operates 17 locations in North Idaho and eastern and central Washington, is another of the region’s standout grocers. The employee-owned grocery retailer, which commands a strong following among regional food shoppers, utilizes in-store events as a key part of its overall strategy to delight and surprise shoppers, including its recent eighthannual Lobster Extravaganza.
Timed to coincide with Father’s Day, Yoke’s invited shoppers to purchase live or cooked on the spot lobster at rock bottom prices for the one-day-only, June 16 event, which it promoted extensively on social media.