Rice Road Warriors Part Two: Unprecedented Efforts

Food Fest booth with blue tent over stacks of rice cookers in boxes and on tables, man in blue shirt gestures to people walking by
Staying cool at the hot spot
Nov 15, 2019
MILLSBORO, DE & SHEPHERDSTOWN, WV – This year, the Think Rice Road Trip has been traveling around the Mid-Atlantic, conducting consumer events to educate the public about U.S.-grown rice and handing out samples and Aroma rice cookers.  The team took some major risks to pull off two of the most unique events for this year’s trip, but both have paid huge dividends for the team and the industry they are representing.

First, at the Fifth Annual Southern Delaware Wine, Food, and Music Festival, the team joined dozens of area restaurants to compete for the attention of the more than 600 attendees.  But the food and wine samples were no match for the free household appliance and the USA Rice booth was “The Hot Spot” of the festival with the team going through more than 300 cookers and collecting consumer information from more 400 attendees who were happy to sign up for the Think Rice Newsletter even after the cooker supply had run out.  The event also nicely dovetailed with USA Rice’s foodservice outreach program.

2019 Foodservice Farm & Mill Tour participant Chef Hari Cameron was the director of culinary competition for the event and he saw to it that U.S.-grown rice was the secret ingredient for the competition.  He also made a delicious horchata for the Road Trip team to hand out along with all those cookers that kept bringing people back to the booth.

“This was definitely a very affluent crowd and we weren’t sure how we would be received,” said Cameron Jacobs, USA Rice director of domestic promotion who had negotiated a prime location for the USA Rice booth and claimed a prominent spot for the Rice Truck.  “It was really nice to see how positively they reacted to us and how grateful they were to learn U.S. rice farmers were out there working hard to feed them.”

The “All Things U.S. Rice Pop-Up Shop” was the talk of historic Shepherdstown, West Virginia, with the team taking possession of the storefront at 106 W. German Street on a Friday and working into the night to create a U.S. rice consumer experience like no other.

“It’s a small town, and people had been watching us all evening moving about 500 cookers and 1,000 pounds of rice inside and setting everything up,” said Sean Mullen, USA Rice accounting manager who volunteered to give up his weekend for the cause.  “They were talking about us all night and there was a line out front when we opened the next morning at 10.  People couldn’t wait to get inside!”

And when they did, they were rewarded, wandering past giant towers of Aroma rice cookers, to displays of rice from all six major rice producing states, each variety with a story that the USA Rice staff was happy to share.

“We had long grain brown and white, sprouted brown, Calrose, jasmine, purple, and red rice,” explained Lesley Dixon, USA Rice staff writer who helped staff the store.  “People had loads of questions and were really interested to hear what we had to tell them about each variety.  They always had trouble choosing, but that was the deal – one bag per person!”

“One of the hallmarks of the Road Trip is how efficiently we are able to visit with the consumers we interact with – we could generally get them to complete our survey, pitch the U.S.-grown message, and answer their questions in five minutes or less,” said Michael Klein, USA Rice vice president of domestic promotion.  “But the pop-up store was different.  People spent a lot of time with us.  They came in and really browsed, comparing varieties, and asking us all kinds of questions – including which was our favorite kind of rice.”

Klein said the answer was always the same: “any rice grown in the U.S.!”

It’s been almost two weeks since the All Things U.S. Rice store captured the collective culinary imagination of the community, but USA Rice is still reaping benefits.  

“Thank you so much for bringing awareness (and rice cookers) to our grateful town!” one civic leader wrote to USA Rice President & CEO Betsy Ward this week.  “I recently visited your USA rice pop-up shop here in Shepherdstown and came away very impressed with your marketing work to get the word out on U.S.-grown rice.”

The team has just a handful of events and a few hundred cookers left in this year’s tour, which means about the only thing left to give away is the Think Rice Road Trip truck itself.  As was done last year, the team is selling raffle tickets to win the truck.  A maximum of 2,000 tickets will be sold and the winner will be drawn at the USA Rice Outlook Conference in Little Rock, Arkansas, on December 10.  (You don’t need to be present to win, and you can even take the wrap off, though why would you?)  

To read more about this year’s Road Trip, see Part One of this story here.  And to purchase raffle tickets for the truck, go here.