According to a Gallup Poll, Christmas is celebrated by 95% of Americans (Jones, 2010). The celebration has a long and rich tradition, which often includes two horticultural symbols that today have economic significance to Michigan and other parts of the United States: Christmas trees and poinsettias. Sales are static or declining nationally and in Michigan, in terms of number of producers, number of units produced, and overall profitability [U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), 2007, 2013]. Michigan producers compete for consumers’ discretionary dollars with alternative decorations or gifts, the purchase of artificial trees and flowers (mostly plastic), and with out-of-state and Canadian competitors.
Although sales may be down, the trend for consumers to buy local is increasing for many reasons, one of which is to support local producers (McIntyre and Rondeau, 2011). All 50 U.S. states currently have or have had in the recent past a state-sponsored agricultural marketing program designed to promote local food purchases (Onken and Bernard, 2010). However, evaluation of these marketing efforts have shown mixed results in terms of marketing success. In one study of consumers in mid-Atlantic states, only one of the five state-wide promoted campaigns (New Jerseys’ “Jersey Fresh” campaign) had higher consumer probability to purchase “Jersey Fresh” labeled strawberry (Fragaria sp.) preserves over generically labeled “local” strawberry preserves (Onken et al., 2011). Furthermore, consumer awareness of their states’ “buy local” food campaign differed depending on when the campaign was established. Older campaigns (established in the 1980s or earlier) had more awareness (65% to 84%) than newer campaigns [those established after 2000, 48% to 52% awareness (Onken and Bernard, 2010)]. These marketing campaigns sometimes struggle to achieve awareness among agricultural producers themselves. In Tennessee, roughly half of fruit and vegetable producers have heard of their states’ two campaigns designed to promote their products (Velandia et al., 2012).
Even with this limited success, a state-wide marketing campaign for non-food purchases still has the potential to promote sales. Collart et al. (2010) found an increase in consumer willingness to pay for a local horticultural branded product as compared with an unbranded product. Such a campaign for Michigan Christmas trees and poinsettias could contribute revenue and tax dollars to Michigan’s local economies and aid in the preservation of farms, which helps to sustain rural development. Michigan is third in the nation in the production of Christmas trees, having sold 1,562,000 trees in 2006 (down 34% from 2002) that were valued at $26,520,000 in gross sales and represented 22,297 acres (9023.3 ha) of production (USDA, 2007). Michigan’s poinsettia industry is seventh in the nation in terms of wholesale value, having sold 2,382,000 pots in 2010 (down 12% from 2009) that were valued at $9,211,000 wholesale (USDA, 2013).
The objective of this project was to evaluate a “buy local” campaign designed to increase sales of poinsettias and Christmas trees by educating consumers about the benefits of purchasing live poinsettias and Christmas trees. An educational media campaign was implemented and a consumer survey was administered to assess attitudes and awareness before and after the media campaign.
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