Hot Commodities

Retailers looking for a boost in fresh sales can turn to commodity boards for help.
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Selling fruits and vegetables has certainly gotten easier over the years, thanks to a strengthened demand for fresh and healthy options. However, a little extra help never hurts. 

Commodity boards work hard in support of their crops. Aside from running conventional check-off programs, commodity boards offer retailers additional assistance, ranging from educational materials to promotional tactics and consumer-focused campaigns.

Below is a summary of many of the commodity boards that retailers should be utilizing, as well as a look at their various focuses for the year ahead. 

Avocados From Mexico

Avocados From Mexico (AFM) is a subsidiary of the Mexican Hass Avocado Importers Association, formed for the purpose of advertising, promotion, public relations and research for all stakeholders of Avocados From Mexico in the U.S. 

Specifically, the AFM marketing group is composed of marketers with backgrounds in CPG and produce, say officials for the Irving, Texas-based organization. 

“This group was tasked with growing the overall avocado market along with the AFM brand, within one of the most profitable categories in the produce section, which is growing with double-digits,” says Alvaro Luque, AFM’s president. “The four-pronged marketing approach of AFM focuses on engaging audiences in each of its four business segments: general market, Hispanic market, food service and retail, with customized strategies, programs and tactics to address the unique needs of each of these segments.”

In 2015, AFM became the first produce brand ever to run an ad during the Super Bowl, say association officials; based on the success of the inaugural ad, AFM made another appearance in 2016.

This year, through March, AFM is running its Fanwich campaign featuring a partnership with Health-full premium breads. The campaign is designed to promote avocado consumption by inspiring consumers to incorporate avocados on their sandwiches. Additionally, beginning in April, AFM will run its Fiesta Del Fuego campaign with Tabasco to help lift sales around Cinco de Mayo celebrations.

California Strawberry Commission

The California Strawberry Commission represents the 400 family farmers that grow California strawberries, which account for about 90 percent of the strawberries in the U.S.

Officials for the Watsonville, Calif.-based commission say that its focus is on production and nutrition research, food safety training and education, marketing, communications, trade relations and public policy, with an emphasis on sustainable farming practices.

“Harvested year-round along the coast, California strawberries are low in sugar, high in vitamin C and provide essential nutrients, fiber and health-promoting phytochemicals,” says Jodi Reinman, public relations and social media manager for the commission. “Research suggests eating just a serving of eight strawberries a day may improve heart health, help manage diabetes, support brain health and reduce the risk of some cancers.”

Idaho Eastern Oregon Onion Committee

The Idaho and Eastern Oregon Onion region provides approximately 30 percent of the bulb onions—known as USA Onions—consumed in the U.S. during its growing season. The Idaho Eastern Oregon Onion Committee (IEOOC) promotes these USA Onions, which are homegrown in Idaho and Eastern Oregon and available in yellow, red and white varieties. The harvest begins in August with onion availability lasting through May.

“USA Onions are versatile onions that may be used at any meal or in any favorite onion recipe,” says Grant Kitamura, Idaho Eastern Oregon promotion committee chairman. “The appeal of USA Onions is their golden globe shape and their remarkably mild flavor. Idaho Eastern Oregon Onions retain their texture when cooked, adding flavor and consistency to any dish.”

Officials from the Parma, Idaho-based committee offer advice to retailers on how to increase sales. Recommendations include large displays and positive signage that both highlight the versatility of USA Onions and distinguish the different onion varieties available. They also recommend that retailers take advantage of consumers’ desire to engage via social media.

This year, USA Onions will increase its social media presence—officials add that it already has an active following on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. The IEOOC also has a new “Farm to Table” promotional video, which can be viewed at any of the social media outlets and is available for displaying on in-store TV monitors.

“Prompting consumers to use their smartphones in-store will provide them with recipe ideas and useful onion information in real time, and may increase sales,” Kitamura adds. 

Idaho Potato Commission

The Idaho Potato Commission (IPC) is the marketing arm for the entire Idaho potato Industry. The organization has created the “Grown in Idaho” seal, which symbolizes quality, and according to commission officials, is known around the world. The IPC is directed by nine commissioners, five of whom are potato growers, two packers/shippers and two representing the processors. 

The mission of the IPC is to contribute to the economic welfare of the State of Idaho, its potato growers and other potato-related businesses in various ways. 

Officials say that these include leading various Idaho potato organizations in achieving mutually beneficial goals, including conducting strategic analyses of markets and marketing opportunities, maximizing research and education funds in improving quality, yield and variety expansion, and working with state and federal government agencies and national industry organizations to better leverage support.

 The Eagle, Idaho-based organization also works to promote and advertise Idaho’s famous brand and certification marks with consumers, retailers, wholesalers, foodservice operators and distributors, and to expand both domestically and internationally all forms of Idaho potatoes.

 Finally, the commission serves to protect Idaho potato registered trademarks and certification marks. It does so through approval and monitoring procedures which ensure compliance, and aggressively challenging any improper usage.

“Our consumer brand awareness is recognized in study after research study as the highest in the industry,” says Seth Pemsler, vice president, retail/international. “We dedicate our efforts to training and education materials and promote Idaho potatoes through the vast number of recipes on our website.”

The IPC currently supplies 30 percent of the nation’s fresh potatoes—mostly russets—but has expanded to include niche and heirloom varieties as well. 

National Watermelon Promotion Board

The National Watermelon Promotion Board (NWPB) was established in 1989 as an agricultural promotion group to promote watermelon in the U.S. and in various markets abroad.

Funded through a self-mandated industry assessment paid by more than 1,500 watermelon producers, handlers and importers, the NWPB’s mission is to increase consumer demand for watermelon through promotion, research and education programs. 

Part of that means ensuring that consumers are aware of the fruit’s key attributes. “Watermelon, the produce leader in lycopene, is a multivitamin unto itself, with each serving providing an excellent source of vitamins A and C and a good source of vitamin B6 with only 80 calories,” says Juliemar Rosado, director of retail operations and international marketing for the Winter Springs, Fla.-based organization. 

Rosado adds that watermelon consumption per capita in the U.S. was an estimated 13.5 pounds in 2014, and volume was approximately 4.3 billion pounds. The NWPB partakes in promotions to help keep these numbers strong.

For example, every year the NWPB partners with the National Watermelon Association for a national retail display contest. The contest encourages produce managers to create an eye-catching in-store display that promotes watermelon of any kind, shares storage and selection tips, and includes extras, like recipes. There is also the option to create a patriotic setup to win the “star-spangled watermelon” display category.

As incentive, prizes for the contest include a grand prize trip for two, $1,000 for the national first place winner, $250 each for nine regional first place winners, $100 each for nine regional second place winners and $75 each for nine regional third place winners. 

New York Apple Association

The New York Apple Association (NYAA) represents New York-based apple growers. 

The association has three designated responsibilities: promote and advertise New York apples and apple products; carry out market and consumer research; and offer grower informational services that include public and government affairs, outreach and educational services.

NYAA designs promotional efforts that are separated into two categories: trade and consumer.  

“We reach out to retailers with tools that can help them sell more New York apples, through advertising, couponing, consumer demos and digital sales aids,” says Jim Allen, association president. “We have tapped into the massive online marketing tools that retailers can utilize to reach their loyal customers, like using online coupons and IRC at point-of-sale or through retailer mailers. This process also allows us to filter out or select certain consumers, based on their buying habits.” 

Based in Fishers, N.Y., NYAA also offers grower informational services that address various industry issues, ranging from labor, immigration and food safety to government regulations. 

On the consumer side, the NYAA reaches out with messages through print media, TV and radio. “We develop and deliver targeted messages that communicate consumer-friendly messages to promote various apple attributes, like homegrown, locally produced, freshness, nutritional values, high-quality and flavor profiles,” Allen adds. “We emphasize the importance of supporting local agriculture, and that our industry supports green and sustainable growing practices that deliver the safest apples in the marketplace.” 

NYAA also reaches consumers via social media, through channels such as Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram, officials add.

Northern Plains Potato Growers Association

In 1946, a group of concerned potato growers in eastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota, determined to represent the area’s potato industry, united to form The Red River Valley Potato Growers Association. In 1948 the growers built the building that today still houses the association’s headquarters in East Grand Forks, Minn. As it started to include potato-growing areas outside of the immediate Red River Valley, in 2001 the Association changed its name to the Northern Plains Potato Growers Association (NPPGA).  

“The Red River Valley is the nation’s largest producer of red potatoes for the fresh market. This past year, it produced more than 500 million pounds,” says Ted Kreis, the NPPGA’s marketing and communications director. “The region as a whole is the fourth largest potato-producing region in the country, producing potatoes for all four of the major markets: chip, fresh, seed and processed.” 

Originally established to work for its members in the areas of research, promotion, marketing, communication and legislation, officials for the organization say that 70 years later its mission largely remains the same. 

In addition to supporting the tenets listed, the NPPGA publishes a magazine called Valley Potato Grower to provide producers with research and information. 

The NPPGA operates two research sites, one for non-irrigated potatoes near Grand Forks, N.D. and an irrigated site near Inkster, N.D. Both sites are made available to researchers from North Dakota State University, the University of Minnesota and the USDA.

In February, NPPGA hosted the NPC Leadership Institute, a conference that starts in Grand Forks, N.D., where it evaluates key issues in a growing region, and then moves to Washington, D.C. for lobbying training and a brief on public policy.

Pear Bureau Northwest 

The Pear Bureau Northwest (PBNW) was established in 1931 as a nonprofit marketing organization to promote the fresh pears grown in Washington and Oregon. 

Today, the U.S. is the third largest pear-producing country in the world, according to PBNW officials, and Washington and Oregon comprise the nation’s largest pear growing region, with nearly 1,600 growers producing 84 percent of all fresh pears grown in the U.S. Pears grown in these two Pacific Northwest states are distributed under the USA Pears brand and supported by PBNW.

PBNW provides promotional materials and marketing and communication support for nationwide, regional and international retail, foodservice and school foodservice programs.  

The Milwaukie, Ore.-based organization hosts a website dedicated to fresh pears at, with sister sites dedicated to retail and foodservice trade found respectively at and

 Recently, the American Heart Association certified that the Green and Red Anjou USA Pears are a heart healthy food, which the organization is now working to promote. “PBNW is utilizing this new certification to educate retailers, nutrition professionals and consumers about the many health benefits of incorporating more pears into meals and real food snacks,” says Kathy Stephenson, marketing communications director for PBNW. 

United States Potato Board 

The United States Potato Board (USPB) is the U.S. potato industry’s marketing and promotion board. Its mission is to strengthen demand for potatoes, say officials for the Board, based in Denver.

“To strengthen this demand, we must inspire consumers, customers and the industry to approach potato consumption and production in innovative ways,” says David Fairbourn, manager, industry communications and policy for the USPB. 

“The Board is also very focused on changing consumers’ and others perceptions of the health benefits of potatoes,” he adds. This includes making sure that the public understands potatoes’ health benefits, including the fact that they contain more potassium than any other vegetable or fruit, which may help reduce risk of high blood pressure and stroke.

The USPB represents the commercial potato production that occurs in more than 35 states, with roughly 2,500 potato farming operations. The potato industry is specialized in its production, whether growing potatoes specifically for retail, foodservice, or to be processed into chips, frozen products or dehydrated potato products. Fairbourn adds that there are more than 500 varieties of potatoes grown in the U.S.

“With regard to the U.S. retail sector, the USPB is focused on providing retailers and shippers with information and tools to understand what shoppers are seeking, and to increasing awareness of the many benefits of fresh potatoes,” says Fairbourn. “Programs include retailer and industry outreach, direct to consumer marketing and research.”
One way the USPB does this is through its Fresh Potato Associate Training Modules, online tools to provide education on harvesting and packing, storage and handling, potato varieties, nutrition and marketing strategies for store associates. Each module contains a short video followed with a quiz, and at the end, users can print a certificate showing they have completed the potato training course.

Vidalia Onion Committee

The Vidalia Onion Committee seeks to increase the demand for Vidalia onions through marketing, promotion and research. Vidalia onions are cultivated by approximately 100 growers over 12,000 acres each year.

“It is only in the defined production area in Georgia that the soil and climate combine to produce the special characteristics of the sweet Vidalia onion that has attracted the attention of gourmet taste buds everywhere,” says Susan Waters, the committee’s executive director.  

 For the 2016 season, the Vidalia, Ga.-based organization will continue its “V is for Vidalia” campaign with V*Inspired. “We’re excited to announce our new spokeswoman, Whitney Miller,” adds Waters. “Miller is a cookbook author, food blogger and television personality who will be featured on the Destination Channel’s Wild Matters cooking show this year. Miller will make guest appearances on Facebook and provide a wide range of southern recipes with a modern twist.” Retailers will be offered high graphic bins and tear-off pads featuring the recipes provided by Miller for added promotion. Child cancer survivor Lucas Hobbs, known for using his Make-A-Wish to feed the workers at the hospital at which he was treated, will also work with the committee this year. Hobbs will appear at food truck events around the U.S. 

The Vidalia Onion Committee provides retailers a host of assets that can be used to better sales. These include a merchandising best practices presentation, designed for produce managers, which is based on national consumer and sales data research. This year it will also develop resources for supermarket dietitians including recipes, nutritional information and sample social media and blog posts. 

Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers association

The Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association (WPVGA) was established in 1948. The state is ranked third in the country for potato production, No. 1 east of the Mississippi with 140 growers. 

The Association, based in Antigo, Wis., works with its growers to conduct and utilize the latest research and technologies, garner government support, produce environmentally-sound research and stay in touch with consumers.

“We consider ourselves to be educators, potato and vegetable enthusiasts and ambassadors,” says Dana Rady, director of promotion, communication and consumer education. “Through our very own Wisconsin Spudmobile, we teach school children how potatoes are grown, we teach parents about nutrition and healthy eating, and we bring the importance of good agricultural practices to people throughout the Midwest.”

WPVGA also partners with retail stores throughout the Midwest. In 2016, it will give away a 2015 Fat Bob Harley-Davidson motorcycle to the store with the most creative Wisconsin Potatoes display. The contest will take place during Wisconsin’s Potatopalooza month in October. Efforts like this are examples of how the WPVGA encourages buying local, officials add.     

Organics Get Options

The Organic Trade Association (OTA) announced at the start of 2016 that all organic farmers and handlers in the U.S. will now have the option to decide whether or not to pay into and participate in commodity check-off programs. 

This new legislation provides choice for organic farmers, who can now invest in the unique needs of growing organic produce, which, the OTA notes, have been mostly unaddressed by conventional check-off programs. 

The USDA estimates that this will free up an extra $13.6 million dollars yearly for organic stakeholders, which means that those who choose to opt out can focus their dollars on a new proposed organic research and promotion program that is under review by the USDA. Called GRO Organic, the OTA designed this program to function like a check-off for the organic sector.

GRO Organic will benefit the entire organic sector, as opposed to a single commodity, officials say. This program could raise up to $30 million yearly for industry research, funds which will be dedicated to growing market share for organics through promotion, research, education and increased supply. 

There are currently 22 commodity check-off programs in the U.S., funded by commodity producers. OTA officials add that the new exemptions will take some of the funding dollars away from the conventional check-off programs.


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