San Remo Macaroni is Australia’s largest manufacturer of pasta products and the major buyer of durum wheat, which is used to make pasta, in SA. After a dramatic reduction in the level of durum wheat production in the previous two years, San Remo had grave concerns that the industry was on the verge of collapse due to fears of another low rainfall year and the risk of crown rot disease.
While there was no evidence that it would be a dry season, negativity and publicity about the drought meant many farmers were being advised to grow lower risk bread wheat, even though it was less profitable, or feed grain which had achieved inflated prices during 2006.
This was despite the fact that in the 15 years since the first durum wheat was planted in South Australia (largely at the instigation of San Remo) the industry had grown to be recognised as one of the top durum wheat growing regions in the world.
Production of durum in South Australia peaked in 2001-02 when more than 400,000 tonnes were produced. This steadied at just over 200,000 tonnes in 2003/04 and 2004/05. However, production in 2006 dropped to about 40,000 tonnes because of the dry weather and was resulting in a resistance to
planting durum in 2007.
The Durum Growers Association of South Australia, which has about 120 members, had indicated to San Remo that there was likely to be a significant drop in plantings – to about 11,000 hectares. The Association and San Remo Macaroni were concerned about both the short-term impact on grain supplies for the local pasta making business and the long-term effect on future production and the capacity of growers to capitalise on high world demand for durum wheat.
The primary objective of the campaign was to encourage more grain growers to plant durum wheat in Season 2007. However, rather than telling farmers they should plant this variety (an approach which had the potential to work against the company and the Association if it was a poor season), the focus was on encouraging growers to seriously consider durum wheat as a preferred crop option on the strength of its growing characteristics and premium price benefit.
The secondary objective was to gain wider acceptance of the benefits of growing durum wheat as part of the development of a strong export industry which would benefit South Australian grain growers in the long term – thus also supporting long-term supplies of durum wheat for pasta manufacture by San Remo Macaroni.
Following an initial briefing by San Remo and the Durum Growers Association, Hughes PR conducted extensive research on the industry. This provided valuable information to support the key messages and editorial content for the campaign.
Another important source of information was the farmers themselves. Phone interviews were conducted with durum wheat growers in various
areas of the State. The communications strategy utilised targeted coverage in the rural media and a direct mail campaign to all growers registered with the Durum
Growers Association of South Australia. There was also a need to anticipate and minimise any potential negative publicity to San Remo centred on pricing and threats to pasta supplies. The strategy developed was based on securing the third party endorsement of the Durum Growers Association of South Australia and then to roll out the communication campaign through:
- Securing targeted positive coverage and debate in the rural media;
- Reaching all growers registered with the Durum Growers Association of South Australia through direct mail; and
- Personally reaching durum wheat growers through industry channels (Annual General Meeting).
Widespread coverage was achieved in the required time frame and in the appropriate media. According to feedback from the Durum Growers Association of South Australia, this successfully raised awareness of the issue and created renewed interest in durum wheat among the State’s grain farmers.
The direct mail resulted in more than 40 growers attending the Association’s Annual General Meeting and forum on durum growing.
But the main objective was to encourage growers to plant durum. The Association was concerned that only about 11,000 hectares would be planted in 2007. Following the campaign, the Association advised that it estimated plantings of between 30,000 to 35,000 hectares and - depending on weather conditions, a predicted crop of over 100,000 tonnes – compared to 40,000 tonnes the previous year. In addition, all seed held by the Association had been sold.