When Scott McKenzie (pictured) of Seaview Cranberries learned that the co-founder of Genki-Su Japanese Drinking Vinegars was looking for fruit purveyors near her home in Oregon, he thought his locally grown cranberries might interest her.
Takako Shinjo’s message came to him through FoodHub, an online portal that connects food producers in the Pacific Northwest. Shinjo was seeking strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries, but McKenzie thought cranberries might also make a good drinking vinegar. So, he offered Shinjo a free 25-pound case of the fruit to experiment with.
“I always keep some cases [of cranberries] on hand for new markets,” McKenzie says. “In Takako’s case, she wasn’t looking for cranberries, but I thought giving the product away was the best way to get her attention.”
As McKenzie had hoped, Shinjo developed a cranberry drinking vinegar and became a regular Seaview customer.
An Effective Marketing Strategy
Genki-Su Japanese Drinking Vinegars is one of various small businesses that McKenzie has introduced to the allure of cranberries by offering free samples of his product.
He made a similar move with Sarah Marshall, founder of Marshall’s Haute Sauce, who now uses his cranberries in a salsa. He gave a five-gallon jug of juice to Hotlips Soda, which led to its cranberry soda. And his free fruit helped Stone Barn Brandyworks develop a cranberry liqueur.
McKenzie’s approach is to create customers by opening people’s minds to something they may not have otherwise considered and by encouraging the development of new products.
“They probably wouldn’t experiment if they didn’t get the product [for] free — or at least the chances are less,” he says. “Also, they’re more likely to come back to me if they have a successful product.”
A Decades-Old Family Business
Such forward-thinking marketing could brand McKenzie as an “upstart” entrepreneur. But Seaview Cranberries is actually a decades-old family business that started in the 1960s. McKenzie built his own bogs in the ’90s. He recently expanded his operation to 45 acres, which he says will soon produce more than 1 million pounds of cranberries a year. He sells most of that fruit to wholesalers on the international market.
But McKenzie leaves room for small, local food producers in the distribution process, which is handled by nearby Scenic Fruit Co. Scenic also manages Seaview’s sorting, packaging, and freezing processes. Local customers pick up their fruit at Scenic, which ships the wholesale customers’ orders.
Beyond generating additional revenue, McKenzie cultivates relationships with small-business owners for the sheer pleasure of it. “I really like working with beginning entrepreneurs,” he says. “There’s an excitement and energy that they have that you don’t necessarily get from larger companies. It can be more of a personal relationship and a bit more fun.”
He says he also wants to support small-business owners as they work hard to succeed. “To be honest, I have respect for people who are willing to step out and take a chance.”
McKenzie’s advice to others for attracting new customers is straightforward: “Keep your eyes open,” he says. “Read. Be part of these organizations like FoodHub. Just pay attention, and don’t hesitate to put your product out there.”