Ontario greenhouse growers have launched their most ambitious marketing program ever in an effort to boost sales and convince people to buy local.

The Naturally Fresh Inside campaign consists of aggressive marketing, in-store sampling and a social media blitz paid for by the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers Association.

"The effort is really to bring attention to the consumer that Ontario greenhouse vegetables are ready, and they're ready today," said the association's general manager, George Gilvesy. "For a lot of people, they actually don't know that we grow greenhouse vegetables in the province, and this way we can let them know we're here and it's available locally."

The campaign starts just as the offshore and import vegetable supplies tail off.

"Retailers traditionally use offshore product during the winter so it’s important to get our market share back," James Cornies said.

Cornies Farms Ltd. in Kingsville, Ont., south of Windsor, grows cucumbers in 6 hectares of greenhouses.

By the Numbers

Each year, Ontario's 224 greenhouses on 2,272 acres produce:

  • 300 million English cucumbers.
  • 165 million pounds of bell peppers.
  • 420 million pounds of tomatoes.

"Their season is winding down and our season is starting up. We have a lot of volume coming on at this time of the year," Cornies said.

Greenhouse growers in Ontario produce 300 million English cucumbers, 165 million pounds of bell peppers and 420 million pounds of tomatoes each year.

John Cranfield, a professor of food and agriculture economics at the University of Guelph, said the campaign is a good but risky idea.

"I think it’s the kind of thing this organization needs to do," Cranfield said. "They’re trying to capitalize on locality.

'Programs like this are always a risk ...' — John Cranfield, University of Guelph

"Programs like this are always a risk because they cost a lot of money and take a lot of effort. But my hunch is that this will gain some traction over time."

Cranfield said the association has to take the "scarce money they have as an organization and allocate it to marketing."

"They don’t know what the return will be," Cranfield said.

Gilvesy wouldn't say what the association is paying to market its product.

Local Food Act

The marketing also comes a little more than a week after Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne announced her Liberals have re-tabled the Local Food Act, which is an effort to convince Ontarians to buy more local produce.

Cranfield the buy local movement "reflects the mood in Ontario agriculture."

"I think this notion of trying to target locality of production and Ontario grown is really trying to get at one segment of the marketplace that is focused on locally produced food," Cranfield said. "That’s not for everyone. A lot of consumers are price sensitive … and don’t care where product comes from."

Cornies said Ontario produce is "similarly priced" to Mexican imports, for example.

Chuck Campeau is a produce specialist for Metro Food Stores.  The company will carry and promote greenhouse growers' produce.

"It’s fits in really well. It’s good value for the customer. There’s nowhere in the world where you’ll find a better product," Campeau said. "It’s second to none. This is what our customers are looking for; something fresh and quality.