Seed World

Achieving Differentiation in the Seed Industry

Gro Alliance

A third-generation seedsman, Jim Schweigert grew up in the family seed business and was exposed to industry issues at an early age. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in public relations from the University of Minnesota and worked for corporate public relations firms in Minneapolis, Chicago and Atlanta before joining the family business full time in 2003. He has since been active in the American Seed Trade Association, the Independent Professional Seed Association and earned his master’s in seed technology and business from Iowa State University. As president, Schweigert manages client contracts and crop planning, as well as business development and new market opportunities. His unique background and experience make him one of the seed industry’s leaders in innovation. As such, he was honored as Seed World’s 2009 Future Giant and currently serves as chair of the board of directors for Seed Programs International.

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I’ve stayed connected with Iowa State University since earning my master’s degree in seed technology and business in 2012. During a recent discussion with the Seed Science Center team, I mentioned that it felt like independent seed companies were becoming more comfortable selling multiple brands and how that was quite a shift from a few years ago. Many independent seed company brands contain the hometown or family name. Adding another brand seemed like a big step.

The folks at Iowa State were intrigued. They asked me to put some thoughts together for an upcoming seed business short course. I analyzed the differences between how independent companies and multinationals presented their brands on their websites and in their ad copy.

It was eye-opening.

The brand sites of the multinationals showed that the flagship brands touted performance and yield as the key attributes. The regional brands owned by those same companies emphasized the “local” focus of that particular brand…like “Wisconsin Proud,” for example.

My visit to independent seed company websites found a similar “local” message. These companies were leaning on the fact that their brand should be the preferred choice because they know the area’s soils and conditions and could recommend the best product. Their family lives there, so this positioning makes sense.

But are those same companies missing a chance at real differentiation? Could a deeper dive reveal a more impactful message they could bring to the forefront?

It’s “choices” and “options.” Most independent companies now offer multiple brands under their family or hometown umbrella. Some use the additional brand(s) as a way to access unique germplasm or traits, while others use it to position some of the lineup at a different price point.

This is something the multinationals don’t seem to be replicating. All the major companies have acquired regional seed company brands since 2004. The retained brands are targeted to regional or state-specific markets and emphasize the local aspect of that historic brand. In all cases, however, that regional brand has a base lineup similar to the flagship brand.

Independent seed companies can capitalize on this by maintaining a local message while layering in the “choices” and “options” message through multiple, unique brands. These options highlight the independent companies’ real strength and point to true differentiation: the ability to offer germplasm and traits from multiple providers.

I see the path forward for independent companies to serve as a trusted, local advisor. They live there, understand the area, and deliver the right solution from any provider through a unique brand. There is the risk of diluting the main company name. If positioned correctly, I think independent seed companies can leverage their position as local experts and ensure the farmer gets the best seed choice, no matter where it originates.