In recent years, my wife Maggie and I have canned peaches, tomatoes, and asparagus. Maggie comes from a large family and we usually make our “canning day” a group family affair that includes many of her 8 brothers and sisters and extended family. We have great fun and end up with a year’s supply of whatever fruit or vegetable the team decides to preserve. This year we canned over 200 pounds of tomatoes. When WSFC Promotion Director James Michael came to me last spring and proposed a “preservation out-reach component” to our stonefruit promotional campaigns, I responded favorably because of the “fun factor” that I had experienced during my family’s own canning activities. James provided some interesting consumer data that showed that there was a movement quietly taking place in the United States and Canada that both young and older consumers where returning to canning food for winter and beyond. Sales of canning supplies across Canada increased by 70% from 2009 to 2010. Likewise, spending in competitive U.S. markets, making up 20% of the population, spend more as a percentage on canning supplies than on cigarettes, auto supplies, or soda. This year, the sales volume of canning and freezing supplies nationwide jumped 18%. We think that the phenomenon is being driven by the consumers’ desire to make every dollar count in an uncertain economy and an attitude that getting back to basics and preserving foods just like Grandma did is a valuable way to use time and save money.

Based on SPECTRA analysis studies by the NWCG/WSFC in 2009, a targeted Web site designed to reach out to consumers within specified demographics was launched in July of 2009. During the down economy, consumers of all demographics are examining new and old ways of preserving safe, healthy food with minimal additives at the lowest cost possible, which is most often while the fruit is in season. By appealing to those interested in health, the environment, locally-sourced produce or just the art of cooking, SweetPreservation.com creates an easy go-to source for information and inspiration. Whether new to the art or just revisiting, SweetPreservation.com delivers nationally-recognized safety guidelines, tips for selecting the best Washington fruit, ideas for hosting a canning party, and labels created by the grassroots online-sales collective, Etsy.com.

By minimizing the “branding” and emphasizing the art, SweetPreservation avoids the over-riding “corporate influence” that discourages some consumers, especially the millennial buyers who have been targeted as a high priority by the aforementioned SPECTRA analysis. Specific media releases and guerilla marketing strategies were used to emphasize attention during the Washington soft fruit season. Such activities ranged from pop culture street poster campaigns in Portland and Seattle to online promotions through Twitter and Facebook in select markets nationwide, as well as radio PSAs throughout the Northwest and a television spot on the nationally syndicated morning talk show The Daily Buzz. By identifying this consumer pattern early, WSFC’s SweetPreservation.com took advantage of widespread media coverage nationwide across the major networks and platforms throughout the summer and fall. Several measurable consumer interactions from the conservation effort are:

- 25,000+ unique visitors to SweetPreservation.com during the WA soft fruit/Northwest cherries season (most interestingly, the site was frequented most often during the week and not over the weekend, as we would assume)

- 4.9 million audience reach from online and print campaign mentions

- 22 million impressions and more than 3,000 click-throughs from Facebook engagement ads

By aligning our materials with the needs of the consumer during the soft fruit season, SweetPreservation.com is a relationship-based Web site that is designed to increase volume during pre-planned or impulse purchase instances within retail settings. Additional roll out and development plans are already drafted to extend the reach next year, with a target of retailers pulling the information into their promotion programs, as well as continuing to drive volume increase in consumer sales during an increasingly competitive period.

Here at home where tree fruit is a way of life … it a good idea to plan a “canning day” and have some fun this fall whether you choose to preserve apples, pears, or even some late nectarines. Yes you can!