(Host) You probably think it’s easy to identify what is, or isn’t, a Vermont product. But commentator Tim McQuiston says that the label doesn’t always tell the whole story.
(McQuiston) Attorney General Bill Sorrell, backed by Vermont maple sugar producers, has been grappling with how to further preserve the Vermont brand beyond the current regulation. Already, regulations are pretty strict. But that has not stopped a watering down of the name “Vermont.” Maple products are especially susceptible to fraudulent or misleading claims. But the new regulations proposed by Sorrell have actually received a negative reaction from the general business community.
Consumers across the country perceive a value in Vermont products. Items like maple, dairy, apples, and even spring water can be clearly identified as being pure Vermont products.
For maple products, Vermont has a zero-tolerance regulation. If a product is labeled as pure Vermont maple syrup, it must be 100 percent pure Vermont maple syrup. It’s the same with apple cider, which must be grown and pressed here. The federal standard for maple is not quite as strict. It allows for some additives, like salt. But not all products have to be that pure. Consumers will pay extra for Vermont made chocolates or coffee, for instance, but certainly would not expect that the cocoa or coffee beans were grown here.
For commodities, this seems pretty straight forward. But it isn’t. For instance, what if a company is based in Vermont? The such and such company “Of Vermont” is a common moniker. Or what if the name Vermont is used as a generic style, as has been the case with oatmeal, just like Buffalo chicken wings, Philadelphia cream cheese, or French fries?
Since it was first settled by Europeans, Vermont has cultivated a brand-identity that has geographical and cultural importance in the marketplace. This brand-identity could be diluted if it is not defended.
Attorney General Sorrell has developed new regulations and has requested public input. As of now, there will be two more public hearings, one later this summer and another in the fall. Once new rules are adopted, which seems inevitable, producers will have a year to make appropriate labeling changes. Those changes would include clearly identifying on the label what food products, say, did not come from Vermont.
The business community is very sensitive to this because their own trade names, often containing the word Vermont, have themselves developed goodwill over the years or even over decades.
The new regulations would more strongly define what is a Vermont product and what is not. The attorney general seems determined to institute these stricter labeling requirements. Much of the business community might think it’s just another government intrusion, but the best they can hope for at this point is to make the best deal they can to preserve their own Vermont image.
This is Timothy McQuiston.
Timothy McQuiston is editor of Vermont Business magazine.