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Asparagus growers target online sales

During the coronavirus pandemic, many people turned to online shopping. That didn’t benefit the asparagus market because marketers call it an “impulse purchase,” said Jamie Clover Adams, the executive director of the Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board, based in DeWitt.

“Many times it’s not on your grocery list,” she said. “But when you walk in the store and see that beautiful product there, you go ‘Hmm. I want to buy that.”

Promoting online sales of asparagus is among the $1.2 million in projects to support Michigan specialty crops recently awarded by federal officials. The funds were split among 12 recipients. 

The asparagus group successfully applied for a $125,000 grant for a project called “Michigan Asparagus for the Digital World.”

It targets ads about asparagus and its uses to shoppers while they are online, Clover Adams said. Promotion to people shopping online is imperative for asparagus growers because the season for growing asparagus in Michigan is a two-month window in May and June.

“It’s a perishable commodity,” Clover Adams said. “If people aren’t purchasing, then retailers are reducing the price in the store to get it out the door. That is where we saw a decline in pricing.”

The state has over 100 family farms that produce 20 million pounds of asparagus, according to the Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board. Oceana County hosts the National Asparagus Festival every year and is considered the “Asparagus Capital of the Nation.” 

Recipes that include asparagus are part of the ads to help people enjoy their experience with the product and keep them coming back for more, Clover Adams said.

Another commodity group supported by the grants is the Cherry Marketing Institute. It is getting $125,000 to improve marketing and to increase demand for Michigan-grown tart cherries nationwide and even internationally. 

“We find an opportunity and find homes for tart cherries all across the world,” said Nate Chesher, the marketing director of the Cherry Marketing Institute. 

Mexico could be ripe for expansion. Cherries for bakeries, hotel menu items and cocktails are in demand across the border. In the United States, Michigan-grown tart cherries are marketed for things like cereal, granola bars and even a special tart cherry-theme burger at the Wahlburger restaurant chain. “It runs the gamut really,” Chesher said. “You can put cherries on sweets, savories, etc.”

Hops is a specialty crop  important to breweries in Michigan. The crop has been purchased from farmers outside the state in recent years, said Chris Vogel, a hop trial coordinator for Great Lakes Hops. 

Great Lakes Hops, located in Zeeland, received $85,800 to help farmers grow hops in the state. ‘We are trying to shorten the gap between farms and the brewers that use their product,” Vogel said, “and put emphasis on the local market that is available for hops. It’s not been a resource that has been available forever. We didn’t have this 20 years ago.” 

Source: Michigan State University

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