Select A Taste Of Michigan

March 28, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — Gov. Jennifer Granholm, the Michigan Department of Agriculture (MDA) and other local and state agriculture and food industry officials participated this morning in kicking off  "Select a Taste of Michigan," a marketing campaign aimed at creating increased demand for Michigan-grown and processed local and organic food products.

Spearheaded by the MDA, the initiative is designed to boost Michigan's agribusiness and family-run farm businesses, thereby expanding local economies throughout the state. It's being launched here and rolled out through West Michigan initially, then to all areas of the state.

Brand identification is at the heart of the promotion. Two new labels have just been introduced to the Grand Rapids market to help consumers identify Michigan-produced food products offered in participating retail grocery stores: the "Select Michigan Fresh" and "Select Michigan Organic" brands.

Area retail grocers participating in the initiative are D&W Food Centers, Spartan Stores, Meijer Inc., G.B. Russo & Son and Harvest Health. Though the initial push is directed at consumers and grocery retailers, restaurants also are encouraged to support their local economy by "buying Michigan."

"Consumers out there, we want you to support the home team," Granholm said. "We want you to buy Michigan because Michigan grows fresh food, organic food, healthy food. You're not only supporting your families and your communities, you're not only supporting Michigan farmers, but you are also being a citizen patriot in doing so.

"Statistics say that people would buy Michigan if they knew what was a Michigan product. This initiative helps us promote our state, our businesses, our farms and our products."

The "Select a Taste of Michigan" marketing thrust will include the display of the "Select Michigan" logos on food packages, weekly advertisements, shelf displays and in-store promotions. "Celebrity Chef" demonstrations also are planned.

Beginning with the promotion of Michigan soy products in April, various Michigan fresh and organic food products will be highlighted each month as they come in season. Asparagus will be the headliner in May and June; cherries and sugar will take center stage in July; blueberries and peaches will star in August, followed by Organic Harvest Month in September and an apples and potatoes promotion in October.

The state secured two federal grants on behalf of the initiative. The MDA received an 18-month grant totaling $200,000 and Michigan Integrated Food and Farming Systems (MIFFS) was awarded a three-year grant of $200,000, said Christine Lietzau, manager of the MDA's organic and sustainable agriculture program.

Lietzau noted that another $67,000 was raised through the private sector so far but she expects more private donations will likely roll in over coming months.

"We're going to do a lot of evaluation so we can track sales before and after and economic value before and after so we can show people there is an economic value," she said.

Dan Wyant, director of the MDA, pointed out that the $37 billion agriculture industry is Michigan's second largest industry after the auto industry and is second only to California in terms of the number of products it grows.

Currently, the state produces 125 different food commodities, and one-third of Michigan's land base is in agriculture production.

Kamyar Enshayan of the Practical Farmers of Iowa University of Northern Iowa told an audience of about 300 gathered at the Crowne Plaza Hotel Friday what his organization learned through a similar initiative in Iowa.

He said when a single company controls a large food processing and distribution network, it often purchases raw food products from many different sources and uses processing and distribution facilities in various regional locations, meaning the food that reaches consumers' tables very often is neither locally produced or even from their home sate. He referred to that kind of scenario as "value-subtracted agriculture."

But when many independent locally owned businesses run the show, it represents a "value retained agriculture" because what is grown here is purchased and consumed here so those food dollars stay in state, he said.

Enshayan told the story of seven small businesses in northeast Iowa — from Rudy's Tacos to Root's Market — and the payoff from their concerted effort to "buy local." Last year, the seven institutions collectively contributed $200,731 to their local economy simply by purchasing locally grown and processed meat, fruits, vegetables and other food products.

"That's money that didn't leave the county and the community. That's real economic development — as real as it gets." It also represents an investment in local farm families, he added.

In a consumer survey conducted in 2000 by EPIC/MRA, a Lansing-based research firm, 75 percent of those surveyed indicated they would be more likely to buy a food product if they knew it was grown or processed in Michigan.

In Grand Rapids alone, food and beverage store sales run nearly $135 million annually. Additionally, diners spend more than $196 million a year at local food and drinking establishments.

Statewide, consumers spend more than $14 billion a year at food and beverage stores and more than $11 billion in food and drinking establishments.

"The question is how much of these food dollars are we going to retain? What if in Grand Rapids we set a goal over the next 10 years to capture 10 percent of the money we're spending on groceries?" Enshayan asked. "That would be $13 million a year, and that beats bingo and casinos and all this special economic development people think about."

The retail grocery partners involved in the initiative have committed to do what they can and to incorporating the Select Michigan campaign into their own their stores and promotional efforts, said Tom Guthrie, executive director of Michigan Integrated Food and Farming Systems (MIFFS).

"I think they understand the good features of this program and that is the more of the local dollars that they can keep in the local community the better off it will be not only for themselves but the people that they serve. They will, perhaps, be serving them a better product and a more fresh product, as well as keeping that economic balance."

MIFFS, a nonprofit that supports sustainable food and agriculture systems for Michigan producers and consumers, has been spreading the word about Select Michigan to farmers, and Guthrie said he's already getting calls asking when the initiative will be rolled out in their own communities. He noted that some restaurants are already on board with Select Michigan, so that second wave of participation is already starting.

"So much money is spent by people who eat out that if we get the restaurant community involved with this and the restaurants actually become acquainted with the farmers supplying them — it's just a win-win situation for everybody."

The goal of grocery retailer partners in the effort is to work even more closely with some of the state's mid-sized as well as small growers, instead of just the large cooperative growers, said Jeanne Norcross, spokesperson for Spartan Stores.

"It's going to take a little bit of time to work all the issues through because there are certain criteria for safety and consumer protection reasons; there has to be certain standards and standardizations to keep the costs down but the safety up. But we are committed as a retail chain and as a distributor to support Michigan growers and continue to buy Michigan products."

She added that Spartan is optimistic about the benefits of working and bonding with growers and being able to serve as a steward in bringing local products to the local market.

Sen. Bill Hardiman, R-Kentwood, said he has not heard any estimates as to how large an impact the initiative might have on the state's economy, but said he imagines it will be "pretty healthy."

"I think it will mean a boost to the economy for Michigan. One of the surveys said people would be more willing to buy if they knew it was homegrown right here in Michigan. I think consumers would be willing to buy Michigan products, but it's just hard to know which ones they are."

That's about to change, and Hardiman said that from now on, when he goes shopping with his wife, he'll be looking for the Select Michigan labels. 

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