Maybe this is one of those only in Vermont stories. An iconic Vermont brand, Cabot, has become fodder in a political campaign.
Candidates for Attorney General have weighed into the controversy surrounding the Cabot Creamery Cooperative’s decision to remove the word "Vermont" from its logo.
The co-op made the decision after being warned by Attorney General Bill Sorrell’s office about truth-in-advertising issues.
But Cabot doesn’t want to get dragged into the campaign. And the co-op says it was its choice alone to change its label.
Jack McMullen, a one-time Republican U.S. Senate candidate, now running for attorney general, held a news conference this week to criticize what he said were misplaced enforcement priorities of Attorney General Bill Sorrell’s office.
"It seems a sad state of affairs where a company like Cabot which markets the brand, contributes financially to the state, finds its Vermont identity being questioned," McMullen said.
McMullen said Sorrell could have shown some leniency.
"Instead of the black and white interpretation of a law that would exclude a company like Cabot, we might want to ask what the economic impact would be, as well as the legal course of action," he said.
The attorney general enforces Vermont’s "point of origin" rules that say any product claiming to be from Vermont, has to be made here, and that 75 percent of its main ingredients should come from the state.
Cabot quietly changed its logo about a year ago after discussions with the Attorney General’s office. An assistant attorney general pointed out that the co-op’s butter was made in Massachusetts, yet the packaging , which at the time included a promotion for Vermont wood products, could lead consumers to believe it was from Vermont.
But Cabot says neither Sorrell nor his staff ordered the company to change its logo. Roberta MacDonald is the co-op’s vice president for marketing.
"The logo change was entirely our choice. Entirely. Period. Paragraph," she said..
MacDonald said she understood the Attorney General’s concern.
"And I completely see the point of view there, by promoting Vermont companies on our carton, you were implying Vermont," she said. "So the cleanest thing we could do was bring out a logo we had been working on for a long time that identified all our farmers and their places or origin."
The main Cabot logo no longer mentions Vermont. It says the co-op is owned by farmers in New York and New England.
T.J. Donovan, who’s challenging Sorrell in the Democratic primary, also weighed in on the Cabot issue. Donovan, the Chittenden County state’s attorney, said if he were in office he’d enforce the law but also find a way that Cabot could keep Vermont in its logo. He said he wasn’t trying to leverage the Cabot controversy for political gain.
"I don’t know if it’s a political opening or not. Rather it’s an issue that suggests to me we can do more for Vermont. We can work together with the private sector," he said. "We can work with the public sector, different state agencies, trying to solve problems."
Meanwhile, the Shumlin Administration and Attorney General Sorrell are working on a plan to allow companies like Cabot to use a new Vermont logo that’s designed to assure consumers they’re buying a quality product.