Vermont brand

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(HOST) The word “Vermont” means high quality to consumers across the country. Commentator Timothy McQuiston explains how the Vermont attorney general wants to make sure that the labeling of the Vermont products is as pure as the product itself.

(MCQUISTON) By now you’ve probably heard of the Vermont Origins Rule. It’s that new labeling regulation for Vermont pro- ducts. Those products that say “Vermont” on the label. There
are a lot of them. Over 5,000 companies in the state use the
word Vermont in their name. Many other businesses in some other way indicate or imply that they are from Vermont.

In almost all cases, it simply means that the company is locat-
ed here and that we can presume that most of the business is transacted from here. It’s that presumption that has caused the Vermont Attorney General to step in and strengthen the rules safeguarding the Vermont brand, particularly as it regards food products. Consumers may not care where a publication gets its newsprint, but we can safely say they do care about what they eat.

For the last six years, Attorney General Sorrell and the governor’s administration have been working to develop a labeling program for Vermont food products. It is not cut and dried. While the Vermont Seal of Quality on a milk carton clearly states that the contents are strictly from Vermont milk, the Seal actually covers relatively few products.

For instance, some great and historic Vermont companies like Cabot, McKenzies and Vermont Bread have some of their pro- ducts made out of state. While Cabot makes its famous cheese
in Vermont, its butter is made in Massachusetts and may, or may not, be made from Vermont milk.

And what if, say, a Vermont company has outgrown its local production facilities because it has grown in popularity. Say the company now ships across the country and wants a plant in the Midwest to make its product so consumers there will have the freshest possible product. Such is the case with Vermont Bread
in Brattleboro. Or, say, the original company, like McKenzie, has been bought out, and some products are made out of state.

The new rules will become effective in January 2006. Companies that would need to change their labeling would have up to a year
to do it.

While the Douglas Administration is rightly concerned over how these new rules will impact some businesses, maintaining the brand is paramount. The trick for the state is to find a way to maintain the strength of the brand without damaging these Vermont companies.

To a large extent Vermont stumbled into this brand through
a coincidence of geography, history, demographics and some government policy. But what Vermont has, a Madison Avenue marketing wiz could only dream of. Ask Coke or Pepsi, Nike, Hilton or many others. They spend millions reinforcing their
brand in the marketplace. Vermont is the Rolls Royce. That
is what we’re selling.

The irony, of course, is that the only reason there is a debate
over labeling is because of the power of the Vermont brand.

This is Timothy McQuiston.

Timothy McQuiston is editor of Vermont Business Magazine.

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