Hot Out of the Gate: New Products for 2015

It’s that time of year again: a time for barbecuing, beach trips, and picnics, but also for Maple Ridge Farms’ new products! We’ve expanded almost every aspect of our line, from smaller, more economical gifts to towers and tubs—and everything in between. There’s something different for everyone this year, and we’re excited to show our gifts off.

Our small gifts are always popular, and this year we’ve added a couple of new options. We’ve still got our popular Premium Delights (the ivory version of which is now also available with a four-color label) and Classic Treats boxes, but added Gable Top Gift Boxes (available with a gold or silver top and imprint) and Black & White Triangular Gift Boxes. Both of these are filled with a wide selection of our gourmet chocolate and nuts, so you’re sure to find what you’re looking for.

At a slightly-higher price point is You’ve Got Mail! These stylish envelope-style gift boxes are available in a classic navy and white pattern with white imprint—sure to generate rave reviews for the unique packaging wrapped around the delicious treats.

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We’ve also revamped our red and navy Magnetic Boxes. They’re now offered with a gold or silver ribbon (to match the imprint) wrapped corner to corner for a fresh look. These are available in both our rectangular and larger square box sizes, with a wide array of deliciousness contained in each.

Our desk accessories line offers a classy, elegant look to enhance any desk. This year, we’ve added a three-compartment Faux Leather Desk Organizer, perfect for holding that errata that always seems to end up everywhere. It’s available with the imprint foil-stamped in white or debossed on the front of the organizer to create a lasting reminder.

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This is a big year for towers, too! In the past, we’ve offered decorative towers for a unique flair when entertaining, and this year we’ve revived the line with our Majestic Nutcracker Tower. He’s over a foot of charm and an excellent centerpiece once the treats inside have been enjoyed. We’ve also added lovely Silver & Navy boxes with a different look for our standard towers, to provide even more options vis à vis our traditional patterns.

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There is, of course, plenty more to discover! Our 2015 catalogs are mailing soon, so keep an eye out for yours. (If you’re not on our mailing list or would like extras, just contact a Maple Ridge Farms Sales Consultant.) Don’t forget: you can also view all of our new products in the New Products section at mapleridge.com.

Which new products are you most excited about?  Let us know in the comments!

6 Food Trends for 2015 and What Makes a Good Business Food Gift

candybubbleSpring is a fun time for foodies. Major food shows are held such as the Sweets & Snacks Expo, National Restaurant Association Conference, and the Fancy Food Show. After all these shows, there are always new food trends that emerge, and this year’s food buzz has not disappointed us!

Here are some of the reported trends in the Food Industry:

Artisan Donuts are hot in the influential California food culture, and heating up in Chicago and New York City. These are not your basic glazed versus powered or jelly filled, these donuts include Apricot and Sour Cream, Country Ham and Eggs, Vegan Pistachio with Raspberry Hibiscus, and Cointreau Crème Brulee.

The hottest new flavors to hit the foodie scene include those that draw inspiration from breakfast staples, exotic fruits and nostalgic treats. Some of the top flavors to inspire new confections are maple syrup, bacon, blueberry muffins, Meyer lemon, blood orange, S’mores and birthday cake.

Tea is timely! Especially artisanal loose teas and flavored ice teas. In addition to new flavors (cinnamon toast, for example) there are new innovations in caffeine levels, such as tea with higher caffeine levels than coffee.

Snacks are hot, and leading the pack are customized, or some assembly required. Lots of new offerings where you have to make a portion of it yourself, whether this is dipping it, spreading it, or decorating it.

Olive oil has been in the limelight at food shows for quite some time. What is changing is how sophisticated it is becoming. Olive oil has slight varieties in flavors, how it is pressed and processed, and regional variations. Bay Area Biztalk says, “Olive oil is almost as complex as wine.”

Chocolate is as popular as ever. The demand is up and the recent crop of cocoa was excellent. Some new flavors reported include Kaitaia Fire Chili Pepper Spice, Strawberry Waffle, and Butter Toasted.

While we celebrate all things food, we recognize that there are some basic requirements of a successful business food gift. Trends come and go but the basic tenets of a good business food gift remain the same.

Maple Ridge Farms has plenty of delicious Milk Chocolate treats to choose from!

Quality, familiarity, and great reputation trumps the newest food trend every time!

Familiarity. If a company or individual is giving a gift to a large group of people, they want to give something with which they are familiar. There is the fear of not knowing how a particular taste or product is received. They want to make sure that the gift they are giving is a familiar food, something that they can be sure people will like. You can’t survey in advance what your recipients like, so it is best to go with something tried and true.

Reputation. English toffee, pecan turtles, and chocolate truffles all have a great reputation and everyone knows what they are. A business can be confident in how well these foods will be received.

Quality. Of course, we, at Maple Ridge Farms make sure our food gifts are of the highest quality, whether it’s the richness of our handmade chocolates, the crunchy freshness of our roasted nuts, or the exceptional flavor of our smoked meats. We’ve built our reputation on high standards of excellence. All our gifts are packaged fresh to order!

A trend might be just that a trend not, necessarily a best seller. Take the bacon craze. It was a big media hype, but has not become mainline, something the average person has tried. Quality, familiarity, and great reputation trumps the newest craze every time!

What are your favorite new food trends?

Effective Supplier-Distributor Teamwork

Trust and teamwork are imperative for the promotional products business model to function well.

Trust and teamwork are imperative for the promotional products business model to function well.

The promotional products industries business model is unusual. Just ask any outside B2B professional. Yet we know it works, and under most circumstances works well. Trust and teamwork are imperative for the promotional products business model to function well.

The topic of trust is currently debated on social media. Trust that the supplier and distributor are upholding the promotional products structure of exclusivity. The distributor-supplier relationship must involve trust to get to the strength of our industry: teamwork. I am not talking about internal company teamwork. We could not function during our insanely busy 4th quarter without a well-nurtured and honed team. Teamwork must also exist on the supplier-distributor level, and even the supplier-distributor-end-user level.

Keeping communication channels open is key in the supplier distributor team. Communication must be flexible and quick to respond and always open to possibilities. Details of a project must be well communicated within the team to keep it processing. The end-user might not be aware of what product and services are available. It can take some digging to determine what fits their time-line and price point needs.

When there is trust, the supplier-distributor-end user team is a valid approach. Our sales team partners with distributors to call on their clients with larger accounts and programs. The distributor takes the team lead position, with the factory present to supply inside information insuring  the end user of a smooth, well crafted program. This occurs via conference calls, office visits and end user shows.

There are also the smaller instances of teamwork. Here are some examples of what we can supply to our distributor team for their marketing and sales efforts:

    • education on how to sell food,
    • statistics on the most likely buyers of food gift programs
    • personalized websites, photography and graphic images
    • end-user formatted social media posts and eblasts
    • self promo programs
    • virtual, tasting and spec samples
    • turnkey end-user sample programs
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Our promise to you is to embrace the supplier distributor relationship as a true team approach.

Finally, we must recognize our important team members ‚ the multi-line reps who are often the front line of our sales team. They are often the first impression a distributor gets of our company.  They act as a good sounding board bringing back ideas to us from our distributor friends.

Our promise to you is to embrace the supplier distributor relationship as a true team approach. When invited in to the distributor end-user team, we will function as a team member to bring you success. We can’t do it without you!

Asking your Client the Question

The caveman carrying the wheels totally recognizes the opportunity for his product to be used, yet he is failing to engage in a relationship that would allow the wheels to be sold/given to the people that would greatly benefit from it.

There are times in life where we stop, listen and hear that there is the opportunity to ask a question.  However, if we are not taking the time to listen and watch, would we even know what question to ask?

The cavemen (to the right) are busy doing what they always do.  Their technique works for them, as it always has. In fact, in all honesty, they do not know anything different.  So they continue and completely pass up an opportunity of a lifetime:  The person with the product to change their world (literally)!

You see, the caveman carrying the wheels totally recognizes the opportunity for his product to be used, yet he is failing to engage in a relationship that would allow the wheels to be sold or given to the people that would greatly benefit from it.  While there are many unspoken needs going on here, it is our job to engage and extract that information from our customers.  In order for us to do this, we need to stop and ask those critical questions – questions that force us to stop, look, listen and take action.

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Watch for your cue, listen for the unknown obstacles your client needs to overcome, craft the question and ask it.

This got me thinking about one of my favorite movies:  Say Anything (1989)!  Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack-the optimist), was determined to spend some time with the intelligent and gorgeous Diane Court (the Valedictorian).  When Lloyd arrived at a party with Diane as his date, a friend asked him, “Lloyd, how did you get Diane Court to go out with you?”  His iconic response was, “I called her up”.  Any objection that Diane presented to Lloyd, he was able to help her overcome it, until she realized that she needed what he had to offer.  (He is an amazing relationship builder, because of this quality!)

 

Case Study

Prior to making an outbound call, I did a little Google-stalk and studied up on my customer’s website and did some Social Media listening.  I proceeded to make the call and when we got to talking, I kept hearing her say “this one client who buys food”.  As we continued conversing, I reminded her that many of her clients are in the financial industry (one of the biggest buyers of food gifts).  By working with her, asking questions and listening, I was able to say…You know, I continue to hear you say “this is your only food client”; however, your customers are buying food…they are just not buying it from you.  She laughed and understood that I listened and was there to help assist her in capturing the SWAG business, from the big-box retailers and increase her sales at the same time.

Watch for your cue, listen for the unknown obstacles your client may not know they need to overcome, craft the question and ask it.

Remember how powerful those well-crafted questions are!  Go ahead, connect today and ask the critical questions that help your customers recognize the need for your services, product, relationship and expertise.

 

 

6 Free Tools for Monitoring on Social Media for Sales

Who Is Talking About You Sticky Notes Question Buzz Social MediaIn 2012 we published an article Are you listening? On social media that is! The key points are still relevant, but the tools have changed. This article focuses on why to listen on social media and 6 free tools to monitor your social presence.

When listening or monitoring social sites, view your efforts as mining for information: how others view your business and how well you know your clients. Take it one step further, not only listen to your clients but monitor what they are listening to on social media to gain deeper insights. This is an excellent strategy for keeping tabs on your competitors as well. (A little online stalking may reap important insights!)

Listen for connections. Identify shared interests, activities and supported organizations. People commonly find these on Facebook and LinkedIn.

If you are a supplier in the promotional products industry check out your distributor clients profiles on Commonsku to see what end-user industries they work with. You don’t want to present them with information on fund-raising projects if they have strictly corporate clients.

Follow LinkedIn notifications for job or location changes. If your contact person at an organization leaves, who is now the decision maker? How can you benefit from the new location of your contact?

Is your client physically moving or expanding? What services do you offer to help them promote these changes?

Sign up for blog subscriptions of clients and competitors.

For more ideas on how to listen on social media check out Duct Tape Selling by John Jantsch.

Here are our recommendations for the best free tools for monitoring social media sites. We recommend using them all as they each add a different element to your search. With the exception of Twitter Advanced Search and Pinterest Search, once set up they are practically automatic.

 

  1. Hootsuite is a social media monitoring app that works with multiple social networks. It makes it easy to track all of your social media accounts on one dashboard. You can monitor @mentions and track keywords to see what people are saying about your company, brand, and blog. You can watch twitter lists on Hootsuite. Set up a list for your clients and for your competitors. Hootsuite also offers weekly analytic reports, and scheduling options for posts.
  2. Social Mention monitors over one hundred social media sites. It is probably one of the best free listening tools on the market. It analyses mentions by measuring influence within 4 categories: Strength, Sentiment, Passion and Reach. Great resource for monitoring what is being said about Brands.
  3. Twitter Advanced Search can be used to piece together a precise and targeted search. With the massive amount of information being posted by tweeters every day, there is a ton of great information available about your brand, industry and your clients. Taylor your search by dates, people, hashtags, topics, and keywords filtered in many ways.
  4. Pinterest Search. At the Social Media Examiner’s Social Media Marketing World 2015 speakers referred to Pinterest as the new google due to its powerful search function. They went as far to say more users are turning to Pinterest, not Google, as their primary search engine. The Pinterest search bar be used for keyword ideas and customer insights.
  5. Addictomatic is useful at getting an overall view of a brand. It aggregates sources of news and information on one easy to use dashboard. It covers sites such as Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, WordPress blogs, search engines such as Bling, Google and Ask.com and social book marking sites like Delicious and Digg. All you need to do is plug in your search topic or brand, click “create” and it aggregates the information for you.
  6. Feedly – Great place to access RSS feeds of all your favorite blogs. Be sure to set up feeds for your clients and competitor’s blogs.

In case you’re not yet convinced of the need to monitor your online presence here is a closing story:

I was on Hootsuite and checked current notifications on our twitter handle @MapleRidgeFarms. I was aghast to read the following tweets:

@MapleRidgeFarms awful www.nowtoronto.com/news/activists…

@MapleRidgeFarms really? www.huffingtonpost.ca/2015/03/29/map… #boycott

This tweeter not only targeted the wrong company, they even had the name incorrect. The attached articles they referenced were about a company called Maple Lodge Farms. Only someone clicking the link would notice this mistake. I quickly replied to the tweets asking them to correct their mistake. Lucky for me this twitter user only has 48 followers and the thread was not picked up by others and sent viral. Case in point monitor! If you have additional suggestions, or stories on why to monitor: your brand, industry, clients or competitors, please comment below.

 

Boost Your Brand: 5 Things to Remember about Self Promotion

Self promotion campaigns are a great way to re-connect with your customers and reach out to new prospects.

As a promotional products distributor, you know better than anyone the power of our industry.  The power of the products available to consumers to showcase their brand and create a lasting impact.  That’s why using those same products in terms of your own self-promotion is a great way reach new customers and cement enduring relationships with your current ones.

 

Still not sure?  Here’s a look at 5 reasons promotional products work as distributor self-promotion:

 

1.  Self Promotion campaigns open the line of communication and promote a favorable image.  They are a great way to re-connect with existing customers throughout the year, gently reminding them you are available to lend a hand for any current and upcoming projects and showing appreciation for past business.  They are also a tremendous tool for reaching potential clients who may be unaware of your service abilities.  All while leaving a positive and lasting impression!

 

2.  Samples sell and self-promoting products pull double duty!  We all know that by placing a physical sample into your customer’s hands, the chances of them positively responding increase.  They are able to examine it more closely and determine if the product can meet their own branding needs.  And it keeps your name on the forefront when they are ready to take action.  It’s also a great way to showcase products they may not even know are available through you, as a promotional products distributor.

 

3.  Using promotional products to boost your own brand is a proven, cost-effective way of marketing your company with minimum work.  Suppliers understand the importance of self promotion, in terms of how their distributors market both themselves and the products they sell.  Many suppliers offer discounts and specials to distributors using their products as part of self-promotion campaigns, understanding that these types of programs create interest in their line as well.  Sales for distributors equal sales for the suppliers.  This makes the investment in time and money worth it.  Self promo campaigns are a business expense that is easily justified by the possibility of future sales.

 

4.  Self-promotion projects promote year-round interest.  Many distributors reach out towards the end of the year, using self promotion to drive in sales in the fourth quarter – and at the same time they say “Happy Holidays” or “Thank you for your business this year”.  And although promotion like this is definitely beneficial, utilizing this type of project throughout the year is a great reminder to your customers that they are not limited by product or time-frame.  They are often expecting to receive something during the fall and winter months, so why not stand-out from the crowd and surprise throughout the rest of the year too!  It serves to encourage them to think outside the box and take note of the vast selection of products at their disposal.

 

5.  You are the best endorsement for the products you sell!  Using the same products you offer to your customers, in your own promotional endeavors, is a great way to show that you stand behind the products and service.  You understand the impact these products can make, and placing them in the hands of your client shows that you are willing to do what you are asking of them.  If you are willing to put your name on them, so will your customers.

 

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Contact our Customer Service Team for special Self Promotion Pricing on our Executive Jelly Bean Dispenser!

Maple Ridge Farms understands that the relationship with our distributors is truly a partnership, and we want to help you “Strut Your Stuff”!  We offer special pricing for self-promo orders, as well as deeply discounted pricing on featured items throughout the year.  Contact our team at eCustomerService@MapleRidge.com for more information, including details on the current promotion showcasing our Executive Jelly Bean Dispenser! through April 30th, 2015.

Anatomy of Food Gift Customers

Sales of MRF products by industry Pie ChartFood gifts can be a tricky sale for a simple reason: a large number of clients don’t realize that they can get their food gifts from you as a promotional products distributor.  Instead, they buy direct from mail-order and internet companies, or big box stores.  Food gifts are a multi-billion dollar annual business, but only a fraction of that goes through the promotional products industry.  Often, it’s up to you to educate clients on the availability of food gifts, but where do you start?  Whether you’re working with existing or new clients, there are some industries we’ve found through years of analysis of Maple Ridge Farms orders to be more apt to purchase food gifts.

Consistently, financial services are the top purchasers of food gifts, with approximately 28% of sales.  Of these, banks take the top spot with 15% of sales.  Don’t limit yourself to banks, though!  Frequent buyers also include credit unions, investment funds, financial planners, brokers, and title companies.  There are countless opportunities for these clients to utilize food gifts—they’re not just for holidays!  We frequently hear of these clients using food gifts for a closing gift, as an appreciation gift (whether for years of services, continued business during inconvenient circumstances, or a new account), or a gift in gratitude for referrals.

Healthcare services are also a top performer, at around 11% of sales. This covers everything from hospitals to medical equipment providers, from dental services to insurance companies—and more!  Many healthcare providers are subject to federal regulations regarding the acceptance of gifts, but food gifts—especially if they’re to be shared in a department—are generally an exception, making them a great option for those tricky situations.  There are also many special days of appreciation and awareness that provide opportunities to present food gifts, including Doctor’s Day, Health Day, Nurse’s Week, and Chiropractic Health Month.

Trade contractors such as construction, electrical, or plumbing companies account for another 8%.  Referral gifts are great for these companies, but we also find that gifts for new home owners on the first day in their new house are a popular option.  Best of all, these can be sent as-needed by Maple Ridge Farms—contact a Gift Specialist about our release programs for more information.

Freight and transportation companies come in at 8% of food gift sales, and oil-related companies at 6%.  Our line of collectible wooden vehicles is extremely popular with these companies, whether as holiday, referral, or thank-you gifts.  We add new vehicles every year, so be certain to check our website or keep an eye out for our 2015 catalog around the beginning of July for new options!

Manufacturers come in at 7% of sales.  We’ve found that incentive gifts are particularly popular with these clients, such as a reward for meeting a quota.  Food gifts are also great as room gifts for tradeshow attendees, and as gifts for employees at sales meetings or company parties.  Don’t forget our line of custom-labeled individually wrapped items for tradeshow hand-outs, too!

Finally, property management companies account for 4% of sales.  These offer many opportunities for a variety of orders, particularly resident gifts.  Generally, property management companies have multiple buildings with many clients at each, whether residential or commercial.  In addition to holiday gifts, food gifts make great welcome gifts for new tenants.

This isn’t to say that food gifts can’t be sold to other industries, of course—there is still a hefty chunk of sales in other industries that don’t factor into these.  We’ve simply found that these historically are the most frequent buyers, so try these companies if you’re looking for somewhere to start selling food gifts!

Have you found that a particular industry or company type buys more food gifts through you?  Let us know in the comments!

Sense and Sensibility – Using All 5 Senses to Promote Your Brand

Using all 5 senses in your marketing strategies helps your customers to truly connect with the product and ensure longer lasting brand recognition.

According to Merriam-Webster, sense is defined as “one of the five natural powers (touch, taste, smell, sight, and hearing) through which you receive information about the world around you.” And sensibility as “the kinds of feelings that you have when you hear, see, read, or think about something”.

The use of promotional products in conjunction with standard multi-media is the only way to evoke all five of those powerful senses, and extend the upper-hand to your customers. Consumers can see and hear ordinary advertising. But can they feel them? Smell them? Taste them? Promotional products can help do just that. Here are five ways to appeal to consumers that simply are not achievable with other advertising strategies:

The Make It Happen Industry

BrainstormingAt Maple Ridge Farms, we have a saying: We are the Make It Happen team.  It’s not just us, though—the promotional products industry is all about making things happen!  Whether it’s help with an unconventional request or keeping abreast of industry concerns, there are several resources out there to help you do just that.

Fun Facts from the Farm! – Maple Ridge by the Numbers!

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Check out the 2014 Year in Review!

2014 was an eventful and exciting year.  And we have you to thank for it…  our wonderful distributors, your customers, and our devoted staff.  Together we tackled the craziness of another season, and together we were able to bring a bounty of delicious gourmet food gifts to recipients across the country.

Now it’s time to look back and reflect on the trends in product and services from the previous season, and we love to share the news.  So, what’s in a number?  Let’s take a look… 

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