Rice Farming

National Rice Month

September kickoff begins in groceries, schools
and rice-growing communities

By Brenda Carol

Broad-based consumer promotional campaigns are critical to the success of any commodity these days. The USA Rice Federation, sponsor of the National Rice Month promotion, celebrates U.S.-grown rice in September to bring awareness of the important role the grain plays in the everyday life of people all over the world.

“September was chosen as National Rice Month since it is when most rice-growing states harvest their rice crop, giving us the opportunity to recognize and celebrate America’s rice farmers and all members of the U.S. rice industry,” says Molly Johnson, Director, Retail Trade and Special Promotions at the USA Rice Federation. “It was officially declared in 1991 when both houses of Congress and the President of the United States endorsed September as National Rice Month. Our goal is to increase awareness of U.S.-grown rice, while simultaneously recognizing the contribution the U.S. rice industry makes to America’s economy.”

Over a billion consumers exposed to U.S. rice
Since that endorsement 18 years ago, National Rice Month has grown in scope and public relations value to the domestic rice industry. It is now a well-established promotional opportunity, exposing over a billion consumers to U.S. rice since the program began. National Rice Month celebrations will take place across America this September in grocery stores, schools and rice-growing communities.

The USA Rice Federation provides a turn-key promotion that retailers and members of the U.S. rice industry can leverage to promote American-grown rice. Promotion spending on the part of rice product manufacturers and retailers for National Rice Month is estimated at $12 million. In 2007, National Rice Month activities exposed 300 million consumers to U.S. rice and resulted in 7,300 in-store rice displays in 43 states.

U.S. rice farmers grow and supply more than 80 percent of the rice Americans consume each year. The United States produces only 1.5 to 2 percent of the world’s annual rice supply, but is the world’s fourth largest exporter of rice.

“The export market remains strong,” Johnson says. “U.S. rice exports this year are projected to increase 23 percent from the 2006/07 crop year, and the United States remains one of the few reliable, stable sources for high-quality rice.”

Although there has been much publicity lately about rice shortages and higher retail prices, the value to the consumer is still intact, according to Johnson. “Many factors are driving the higher prices,” she says. “U.S. farmers are facing high fuel and fertilizer costs and are experiencing the same price volatilities felt by consumers. However, at a price of 10 cents per serving, rice remains one of the best bargains on the plate.”

Retailers see September rice sales increase
This year’s National Rice Month retail promotion highlights the ease of preparation, versatility and nutritious benefits of U.S.-grown rice. Nutrition messaging will be a major focus this year with the recent FDA approval of a health claim for whole grain brown rice stating “diets rich in whole grain foods and other plant foods and low in total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol, may help reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers.”

USA Rice conducts several promotions designed to encourage retailers to create in-store displays for rice. Store manager display contests, incentive programs for U.S. rice miller sales representatives and customized promotion programs with major retailers lead to thousands of rice displays. It pays off big for grocery stores, too.

Retailers who participate in the National Rice Month Store Contest – using materials supplied by USA Rice – see average rice increases of 50 to 400 percent. USA Rice provides retailers and member companies with attractive display signs featuring easy-to-prepare U.S. rice recipes.

“The average consumer doesn’t know what they’re making for dinner at 4:00 p.m. Capturing consumers as they’re making their buying decision and giving them ideas on how to prepare rice is key to increasing U.S. rice sales in September,” Johnson says.

In June, the USA Rice Federation will recognize Alpha 1 Marketing as their Retail Partner of the Year at the USA Rice Millers’ Association convention in Napa, Calif. Alpha 1 increased their rice sales in September by 450 percent by developing merchandising and marketing programs for more than 230 C-Town, Bravo and AIM supermarkets in New York and New Jersey. The stores promoted U.S. rice in weekly newspaper ads, massive floor-to-ceiling end-cap displays, competitive price points, customized point-of-sale materials and in-store cross-promotions with items featured as part of Hispanic Heritage Month.

Krasdale Foods, Alpha 1’s wholesaler and sister company, is also being recognized for its support of National Rice Month as the product supplier to these stores.

“Our entire team is very proud to receive this award on behalf of Alpha 1, Krasdale Foods and the C-Town, Bravo and AIM independent retailers,” says Rich DeSimone, vice president of sales and marketing for Alpha 1. “We have a strong Hispanic customer base and promoting National Rice Month and Hispanic Heritage Month is a natural combination based on the importance of rice in Hispanic culture.”

Student scholarships
Growers, as well as the local communities, participate in National Rice Month in a variety of different ways. “At the grassroots level, there are a lot of exciting activities taking place this September,” Johnson says. “They include 5K rice runs, rice tasting luncheons, gubernatorial proclamation signings, scholarship contests and food bank donations.”

A very important component of the National Rice Month grassroots promotion is the opportunity for high school juniors and seniors in rice-growing areas to qualify for college scholarships.

A grand prize of $3,500, plus an expense-paid trip in December to the USA Rice Outlook Conference in Little Rock, Ark., will be awarded to the student who develops the winning promotional campaign for National Rice Month. In addition to the grand prize, USA Rice is offering eight additional scholarship awards, ranging from $250 to $2,000. Eligible students, whose families are directly involved in the rice industry in Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas, can qualify to enter by conducting a promotional campaign in their local community during September with U.S.-grown rice as the central theme.

For information on the National Rice Month retail program, go to www.usarice.com/retail. For scholarship information, go to www.usarice.com/industry, or call Randy Jemison at (337) 738-7009 or Chuck Wilson at (870) 673-7541.

Brenda Carol is a freelance writer based in California. Contact her at (805) 226-9896 or brenda@brendacarol.net.