Brattleboro, VT - Coombs Family Farms is taking a business approach to maple syrup sales that requires “thinking outside the bottle.” The 7th generation maple products company has launched the “secret ingredient” marketing campaign to tap into more use and sales of pure maple products. Instead of focusing on fierce competition with other maple brands for the same store shelf space, Coombs has launched a nationwide campaign to grow the whole category by promoting the versatility of pure maple syrup and maple sugar as delicious year-round culinary tools.
Arnold Coombs, the company’s President, believes their cooperative business approach and their key messages appeal to, and increase, their customer base. Recent food industry market data from the experts SPINs demonstrates that this is the case. According to SPINs, Coombs Family Farms Maple Syrup is the fastest growing maple syrup brand in Natural Product Supermarkets, in dollar sales, unit sales, and market share. “We’re selling the whole category and retailers and customers are connecting with that and supporting us,” says Coombs.
Coombs Family Farms has partnered with the New England Culinary Institute (NECI) on key aspects of the “secret ingredient” campaign, including the use of their chefs’ maple recipes for their brochures, recipe pads and press releases. Like sap running into a pail during spring maple harvest season, editorial interest in the culinary merits of maple syrup is flowing. Over the past year, several different Coombs Family Farms and NECI recipes have appeared in leading daily newspapers around the country including the Detroit News, Kansas City Star, Toledo Blade, Fort Worth Star Telegram, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, El Paso Times, New Jersey Star Ledger, New Hampshire Union Leader, Oakland Tribune, New York Daily News and the Portsmouth Herald.
“Our “secret ingredient” campaign has focused on educating food writers, chefs and consumers that maple syrup is a unique and delicious ingredient for use in a variety of dishes year-round,” says Coombs. “Before the campaign, our research showed that more than 90% of people viewed maple as merely a topping for waffles and pancakes,” he adds. The research also found that usage was seasonal, primarily in colder weather months, which was causing supply and demand problems for manufacturers and retailers.
Historically, maple product use has also been a regional phenomenon - the further one goes from New England, the less common its use and awareness. Coombs spreads the maple cuisine gospel to far-flung places across the country via in-store demos that feature samples of grilled maple salmon, maple glazed barbeque pork ribs, or maple creations using a special local favorite food rather than as a simple topping on pancakes. The secret ingredient campaign also features the rural nostalgia of family farms tapping trees sustainably and the culture of this Yankee tradition. “Much like how Cajun food is famously from Louisiana and ‘Bayou country’, maple products have a regional culinary flair that people in places other than New England are having fun discovering and experimenting with,” says Coombs.
In addition to the “chef-style” in-store demos, the marketing campaign has been spreading the word about the versatility of maple as an ingredient through creative merchandising displays, peel-off store recipe brochures, colorful shelf danglers, channel strips, and a nationwide public relations campaign and targeted advertising. The campaign features three different recipes pads, “Grilling with Maple,” “Sweet Maple Magic” and “Appetizing Maple Delights!” Each pad has 3 different savory recipes. For example, a recipe in the Grilling with Maple pad is Grilled Scallop Kabobs with Maple Teriyaki Glaze. During the early summer months, this recipe is featured during product demos, is the recipe pad posted on store shelves, and the recipes are promoted through a PR campaign to food writers across the country.
Shelf danglers are a tool that has helped educate consumers about the different grades of syrup and which varieties are best for certain recipes and styles of food. For example, the variety of pure maple syrup suggested for grilling is Grade A Dark Amber, while Grade A Light Amber is recommended for desserts.
Although the secret ingredient campaign is focused primarily on growing the whole category, Coombs Family Farms communicates their own key messages including their environmental commitment and their deep relationship with family farms. Market surveys indicate that today’s consumers are interested in the authentic story and integrity behind the products they buy. Coombs customers appreciate the fact that they are making their purchase from a company that has harvested pure maple syrup for seven generations, is one of the few maple product companies that still manages its own maple farms and is allied with hundreds of independent farmers that share their commitment to quality, environmental stewardship and sustainable forestry. “I tap 300 year old maple trees that my great-grandparents tapped and we partner with many of the small farms they did,” says Coombs.
All Coombs Family Farms syrups are 100% pure and don’t contain artificial flavors, preservatives or thickeners. The organic line is certified by OCIA, which ensures that sustainable forestry practices are followed, trees aren’t over-tapped, no pesticides are used on or near the farm and appropriate cleaning processes are followed. To learn more about Coombs Family Farms, visit www.coombsfamilyfarms.com or call 888-266-6271.
Mic LeBel, 207-563-7695