Dec 03, 2020
ARLINGTON, VA – The COVID-19 pandemic has changed almost every aspect of life in the U.S. One of the early impacts was a shift in consumer behavior with Americans eating out less and cooking at home more. Consumers will recall depleted grocery store shelves in the early days of the pandemic, particularly for paper products, rice, and beans, as sales of those products surged.
“There was never a supply problem with rice, it was more a logistics issue,” explained Betsy Ward, president and CEO of USA Rice. “We saw sales shifting away from foodservice and into retail, so the industry had to adjust.”
And adjust they did. Retail rice sales soared through the spring and summer, and the industry took note of rice gaining popularity in places that were not traditional rice markets.
“Rice sales were up all over the place – even in very strong and developed markets like Miami, Los Angeles, and New York,” said Robert Trahan, CEO of Falcon Rice Mill in Crowley, Louisiana, and chair of the USA Rice Domestic Promotion Committee. “But when we saw sales spiking in Midwest markets, we knew something unique was happening.”
Trahan set out to study the sales shift and formed an industry task force made up of mill and farmer members from all six major rice-producing states.
“As we dug into the data we saw we had what were likely first time rice buyers – or at least not regular rice buyers – purchasing a lot of rice,” he said. “We know from experience people are often intimidated to cook rice, so we wanted to do something to help them out and reassure them that purchasing rice was the right move – and that they should keep doing it.”
The industry had already developed a consumer campaign, “Start with Rice,” that had been running for three years in mid-sized Louisiana markets to great success.
“We realized the ‘Start with Rice’ campaign was just what we needed – it communicated rice’s versatility, affordability, ease of preparation, and local origins, so we picked it up and brought it to new markets,” said Trahan.
Trahan said his group looked at combinations of 30 different markets across the country, balancing increased rice sales, rice sophistication, market size, and media costs to arrive at the list of seven markets that would see rice advertising in and out of retail stores. In the end, he said the data pointed them to Boise, Idaho; Green Bay, Wisconsin; Peoria, Illinois; Roanoke, Virginia; Spokane, Washington; Springfield, Illinois; and Toledo, Ohio.
“Consumers there will hear 16 different ads on traditional and streaming radio that deliver varied rice messaging, see billboards, and in-store promotions in more than 550 stores encouraging them to ‘Start with Rice,’” Trahan said. “They’ll get recipes and cooking tips, and we’re looking forward to making these newer rice consumers lifelong customers.”
The campaign launched in mid-November and will run into the first quarter of 2021 at which time Trahan said the task force will evaluate its performance and report back to the industry.