Rice Farming

 - Rice Producers Forum -

Cause marketing: Wise use
of rice farmer checkoff dollars

By Dwight Roberts
President and Chief Executive Officer

Knowing the importance of the foreign market to the rice industry, the U.S. Rice Producers Association decided to take a step back in 1998 and assess how and where rice had been promoted and if changes needed to be made in order to get the best bang for the farmer’s vital checkoff dollars.

Thanks to the encouragement and support of the late Mr. Antonio Lajud and Mr. Jorge Ayala from the Mexican Rice Council, along with funding from the Foreign Agricultural Service and Texas A&M University, the USRPA embarked on a research project in Mexico that would tell us how to conduct a more effective campaign aimed at increasing per capita rice consumption.

The results told us that the rice industry needed to make changes in the consumer audience being targeted. Today, these adjustments are serving the rice industry very well in Mexico, Central America and other important markets in the Western Hemisphere.

The poor also must eat
With the vast majority of the population living on low incomes, it did not take long to realize that the rice industry had been missing the most important consumer group – families with little to moderate disposable income. We forgot that the poor also must eat. Further analysis led us to develop a cause marketing effort in Mexico and Central America (our two largest export markets, representing more than 1.5 million metric tons of exports in 2007) that is gaining popularity in a number of other countries throughout Latin America. School lunch programs and community development activities in rural areas or in the poor neighborhoods of cities have resulted in a sharp increase in the consumption of rice as consumers learn more economical and nutritious methods to feed their families.

Cause marketing – cooperative efforts for mutual benefits
Cause marketing or cause-related marketing refers to marketing involving the cooperative efforts for mutual benefit. The term is sometimes used more broadly and generally to refer to a marketing effort for social and other charitable causes. The Famous Amos Cookie is one of the first examples of a cause-related marketing campaign initiated in 1979 as Wally Amos became the spokesperson for the Literacy Volunteers of America and is credited with alerting more people to the illiteracy problem than any person in history.

The USRPA has seen its cause-marketing approach gain tremendous popularity in the markets of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Nicaragua, while teaming up with local governments, non-profit organizations, local rice industries and trade associations. The results are not just an increase in the volume of U.S. rice exported to these markets but serve as a great humanitarian gesture, while building and strengthening positive relations between the United States and a foreign country.

Reaping additional benefits from checkoff dollars
For example, the School Nutrition Program in Central America has not only increased rice use 20 to 66 percent in the areas where the promotion was conducted, but it is providing nutritious meals to school children and increasing the children’s attendance at school. Educating the children helps to build more stable democracies.

And, at this time of high rice prices throughout the world, local rice industries are under tremendous pressure to reduce the retail price of rice to the people – be it by selling rice for less than they can buy it from the United States or by buying less expensive Asian rice. The Central American rice industries have pointed to the School Nutrition Program to show their governments that they are helping the poor through other methods, and that it would be a detriment to the country’s children to buy from non-U.S. sources. So far, the United States has a 100 percent market share of rice exports to Central America.

In this time of great financial turmoil, it is even more important to leverage producer funds in the most effective ways possible. Through these programs, U.S. rice producers are able to reap additional benefits from their checkoff dollars not only by increasing current exports, but also by developing the tastes and preferences of the next generation of buyers.

For more about USRPA, visit www.usriceproducers.com.