OXFORD – An advertising campaign by Oxford Frozen Foods is bringing attention to wild blueberries as well as the town that’s known as the wild blueberry capital of North America.
The company started the advertising campaign in January and it’s expected to run until April. It includes TV commercials that appeared on the Food Network, HGTV, Global, the Cooking Channel and TSN and were shown during major events such as the Olympics, the Brier and Scotties women’s curling championships.
“It’s something we’ve been talking about for a number of years, but this is the first time we’ve really tried something like this and the feedback we’ve been getting has been tremendous,” company spokesman Jordan Burkhardt said. “We really don’t sell to the retail market. We’re a wholesaler, but the more it came up the more we asked how do we move more blueberries and how do we create more awareness.”
Burkhardt said people will comment that they blueberries, but in many cases they are eating high bush blueberries from other locations. By promoting Oxford blueberries, the hope is people will begin thinking of Nova Scotia-grown blueberries at the grocery store.
The campaign comes as Nova Scotia blueberries growers are faced with very low prices brought about because of a glut of berries on the market. Three successive bumper crops led to an excess of berries on the market and drove prices down to about 48 cents per kilogram. Many growers need twice that to turn a profit.
It also comes with a website (oxfordwildblueberries.com) that answers questions about the health benefits of wild blueberries, how they are produced and the differences between wild blueberries and cultivated blueberries.
Burkhardt said the wild blueberry is not only competing with cultivated blueberries, but other frozen fruits in the marketplace.
“The more people are familiar with the product and its benefits, the more apt they will be to purchase blueberries in the store and the more product will come out of the warehouses,” he said. “It’s something that’s beneficial to everyone. It’s very positive.”
The campaign has a supporter in the Wild Blueberry Producers Association of Nova Scotia, which has also received positive feedback.
“It’s great to see,” association executive director Peter Rideout said. “We, as an association, have been doing a bit of regional promotion, but to have this campaign going nationally can only help the industry as a whole. It helps raise the profile and has resulted in more activity in our website, just as I’m sure Oxford has seen.”
Rideout said the association and its producers are cautiously optimistic looking forward to the 2018 season, and the promotion work taking place and early results are helping buoy that mood.
“There has been a real concerted effort to develop new markets and expand the ones we have. The industry does generic promotion work in our overseas markets, where the vast majority of our crop goes,” he said. “Alongside that the sales efforts by companies such as Oxford supports the promotion the industry associations are doing. We’re seeing statistics on the export markets are very strong and exports have increased by 50 per cent of what they were last year. The program is working and from the storage figures we see, we’re in a lot better position from an inventory standpoint than we were last year. There’s reason for optimism.”
Rideout said it also helps that the crop was not as high as the previous three years.
“It was down significantly from the previous year, which was a record crop,” Rideout said. “It’s a much more manageable number.”
The website also tells potential customers a little bit about Oxford, the town, and where they can buy wild blueberries.
Last fall, Oxford’s development officer conducted a survey of residents and businesses on what it could do to better promote the community. The biggest response was to do more to celebrate the wild blueberry and the town’s role in the industry.
“I am thrilled with the ads and the exposure it brings our little town, and to Oxford Frozen Foods,” Mayor Trish Stewart said. “We are so fortunate to have a major employer in Oxford. It keeps our town running and it is something we don’t take for grants. It just goes to show you can have a successful corporation in rural Nova Scotia and make it work.”