Twenty years ago, Congress and President George H.W. Bush endorsed September as National Rice Month (NRM) to celebrate U.S.- grown rice, its role in a healthy diet, and the rice industry’s contribution to America’s economy.

Sponsored by the USA Rice Federation, with support from rice mills and rice-growing communities, NRM has grown into a well-known annual event reaching millions of consumers each year in grocery stores, print and television media, restaurants, schools, rice-growing areas and on the Internet.

National Rice Month has provided a platform to educate consumers that 85 percent of the rice they consume is grown right here in America, and that rice is nutritious, versatile and easy to prepare. Last year, U.S. rice mills spent a combined $15 million on NRM promotional activities, such as rice recipe sampling programs, coupons, consumer magazine advertising, and Web site features. The promotions made a significant impact, contributing to a 6 percent increase in rice pound sales nationwide from August to September 2009.

Celebrations in rice-growing areas enable local organizers to demonstrate their support for the rice industry and educate their communities about the integral role rice plays in the local economy. Events such as 5-K runs, rice tasting luncheons, youth rice ambassador programs, gubernatorial and mayoral proclamation signings, and food bank donations all generate significant publicity for U.S. rice.

Retail promotions are one major initiative of the National Rice Month program. Each September, branded and private label U.S. rice products are featured in store promotions. More than 6,000 U.S. rice displays were created in grocery stores last year, targeting time-pressed consumers and helping them make the “rice choice” when deciding what to make for dinner.

NRM promotional signage is displayed not only in the rice aisle but also perimeter sections of the grocery store such as the produce, dairy and the meat department to drive sales of rice and products that pair well with rice. Special tear-off pads provide quick-to-fix long- and medium-grain rice recipes and deliver valuable messages about the nutrition benefits, ease of preparation and versatility of U.S.-grown rice. These displays also encourage consumers to chose U.S.-grown rice over imported brands to reduce their food miles.

USA Rice works closely with retail accounts to develop customized NRM promotions that go hand-in-hand with their marketing programs. Last year, new retail partner Ahold USA promoted NRM for the first time in their Stop & Shop and Giant stores. A postcard featuring a USA Rice recipe and a list of U.S. rice brands was sent to 50,000 customers. These targeted promotional efforts have delivered results — rice product manufacturers and retailers who participated in the promotion last year had average rice sales increases of 24 percent.

NRM promotions highlight the broad varieties of rice grown in the United States. Last year a promotion ran in 900 grocery store sushi franchisees featuring a special NRM California sushi roll value pack and signage educating customers about U.S.-grown rice. More than 540,000 special value packs and 400,000 pounds of rice was sold through the promotion. NRM promotional signage prominently features the ‘Grown in the USA’ rice logo which can be found on packages of U.S.-grown rice.

To help celebrate the 20th anniversary of NRM this September, thousands of stores across America are encouraging their customers to buy U.S. rice with store displays, special pricing and coupons, newspaper flyer ads, and Web site features. In-store sampling of U.S. rice recipes will be held in many Wal-Mart, H-E-B Grocery and Costco locations.

Other activities planned for NRM include a “Bowl Us Over” contest, which encourages consumers to enter their best rice bowl ideas to compete for prizes, a “Rice and Shine” challenge in which USA Rice members will be recognized for promoting NRM in their own celebrations, a scholarship contest in rice-growing states sponsored by Dow AgriSciences, and a luncheon on Capitol Hill will be held for senators, representatives and their staff.

National Rice Month materials, artwork, order forms, press kits, and contest information can be downloaded from www.usarice.com/nationalricemonth.