Specialty Food Magazine

JAN-FEB 2012

Specialty Food Magazine is the leading publication for retailers, manufacturers and foodservice professionals in the specialty food trade. It provides news, trends and business-building insights that help readers keep their businesses competitive.

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Page 124 of 159

Among Lotus Foods' goals is to connect consumers to the rice farmers. Photos of the actual farmers who cultivate each variety of rice appears on the new More Crop Per Drop SKUs. "Those pictures are not a generic farmer," Levine asserts. "Those are real farmers." Lotus Foods also rolled out pre-made bags for their packaging. "We wanted a bag that could stand up better with a flatter bottom. Because as beautiful as any package is going to be, if it doesn't stand up on the shelf, forget about it," Levine says. All of the company's taglines, from Rice Is Life to Healthier Rice for a Healthier Life, are woven throughout the company's culture. The website underwent an update to provide more information about the products' countries of origin, the terroir and the farmers themselves, in addition to the nutritional value. In lieu of traditional advertising, Levine says that Lotus Foods is putting its limited resources into the stores and the web. "We're trying to support the stores that support us in conjunction with this brand refresh by setting up more demos and promotions," she explains. Additionally, the company regularly offers promos online. "Our website is handled by World Pantry, and every week they write a newsletter blurb that goes to all of our subscribers, along with a weekly promotion, like 15 percent off Forbidden Rice." Consumer Outreach Consumer education is at the forefront of Lotus Foods' marketing efforts. "You have to explain what makes our rice different from others," says Levine, "and help shoppers understand why it's more expensive." Rice, particularly exotic grains, can be intimidating to cook, Levine adds. To address consumer hesitation, Lotus Foods conducts ongoing in-store demos and has even introduced a stainless-steel rice cooker to its line that sells alone or as a gift pack with the rice. Consumer press and accolades have helped increase aware- ness. "Florence Fabricant has been a tremendous steward of Lotus Foods," says Levine. The New York Times writer's "Foodstuffs" column has brought attention to the company's products numerous times over the years. Awards also play a big role in marketing Lotus Foods' products. In their first year as a member of the National Association of the Specialty Food Trade (NASFT) in 1998, Forbidden Rice became a Silver Finalist in the Outstanding New Product category of the annual sofi™ Awards competition. To date, the company has won nine sofi awards. "It keeps you relevant in the eyes of the retailers and the consumers," Levine says of the multiple wins. Social marketing has been an effective way to empower con- sumers and get the company's message out, adds Levine. Part of the message Lotus Foods stresses in its outreach is that growing rice organically is no longer enough; the process must be sustainable. "We worked hard to make sure that message of 'Better for You, Better for Planet' is conveyed," Levine says of the message printed One way they've kept web content fresh is by partnering with the Natural Kitchen Cooking School, which created 10 rice recipes exclusively for the site. on the back of each bag of Lotus Foods rice. Descriptive copy on the back of the bag also asks consumers to be a part of the solution by buying Lotus Foods' rice, calling out a three-pronged benefit: Because SRI rice varieties use fewer natural resources and decrease global warming, the rice is good for consumer's health, for the farm- ers in developing countries and for the planet. To keep content fresh and engaging, Lotus Foods retains a social-marketing consultant to maintain its Twitter and Facebook accounts and create videos, such as those taken on-site at the farms for its YouTube channel where it spreads the word about SRI rice. Future tech integration plans include a blog and QR technology. "QR was just coming out when we were putting the new packaging together," Levine notes. Already used at trade shows, the QR codes will appear on a channel strip for retail shelves—and eventually, directly on the packaging in the company's next printing. Scanning a package's QR with a smartphone will bring consumers to videos and interviews with the farmers of that particular variety. The Organic Madagascar Pink Rice packaging, for example, features an image of that varietal's farmer, Emmanuel; the QR code will call up a video of Emmanuel in his field, sharing why organic and SRI are important for him and his family. "It's important to us to get to the consumer to know their farmers," Levine stresses. "What makes social media so powerful is now consumers have a chance to be a part of the solution too," says Levine, who believes they want to make good choices, but often don't know how. "That's something I learned early on in my career in fundraising: Donors want to give, but they didn't know how to do that. My job was to put it all together. And that's the way I feel about what we do here." Looking Ahead Currently, Lotus Foods is importing from three countries partici- pating in the More Crop Per Drop farming: Indonesia, Madagascar and Cambodia. The co-owners' next trip will be to India and Sri Lanka, and later, Vietnam. "There are 39 other countries that eventually will be ready and about half a dozen that are ready now," Levine says. Lotus Foods will continue its efforts to bring the SRI method to its older products while continuing to grow the More Crop Per Drop line and build awareness worldwide. "We're commit- ted to changing how rice is grown around the world." |SFM| Denise Shoukas is a contributing editor to Specialty Food Magazine. JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2012 123

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