- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 26, 2005

WATERBURY, Vt. — By mid-October, the fall foliage season was nearly over, but the tour buses and out-of-state cars were still pulling in at the cluster of shops selling Cabot Cheese, Lake Champlain chocolates and other made-in-Vermont products.

The Vermont label “makes me think it’s a little more pure, a little more down home,” Nancy Drake of Troy, Ohio, said as she left with a box of Maple Cream Cookies. “It’s a little different from what you can buy in the chain stores.”

Whether the product is an apple pie, beer or world-famous Vermont maple syrup, the Vermont name has long been prized as a marketing tool. Now the state is looking to protect it by cracking down on its use by companies that have little or no connection to the state.

“It’s an attempt, one, to be of assistance to consumers, to give them the means to know what they’re buying and, secondarily, to be supportive to those businesses that are located in Vermont or are using Vermont ingredients in their products,” said Attorney General William Sorrell, whose office drafted the new rules.

The rules extend only to foods, and apply only to companies doing business in the state.

Calls for a crackdown date back at least 15 years to a case in which the attorney general’s office sued Vermont Maple Orchards Inc., an Essex Junction-based packer of maple syrup and honey and a subsidiary of Borden Inc. of New Jersey, reputedly for violating the state’s consumer fraud law.

The syrup and honey came from Canada, a fact disclosed only in the fine print on the back of the container, while the word “Vermont” was displayed prominently on the front. In a settlement, the company agreed to pay $150,000.

The Vermont name is widely regarded as something worth protecting.

“I think it represents wholesomeness,” said Dan Smith, a marketing professor at Indiana University.

A survey by the Center for Rural Studies at the University of Vermont found that an association with the state could boost sales of a product 15 percent.

“The power of the Vermont name in terms of quality and authenticity is like gold in the marketplace,” David Barasch, a former Ben & Jerry’s executive who founded the Vermont Mystic Pie Co. in 2002.

The Vermont name has cachet even in New Hampshire. New Hampshire Agriculture Commissioner Steve Taylor noted that New Hampshire produces maple syrup, and yet out-of-staters come into his wife’s general store and ask for “Vermont maple syrup.”

“It’s carefully nurtured and goes back to the 1930s,” Mr. Taylor said of the Vermont brand. “It’s been pushed along and built very skillfully. I’ve got to hand it to them.”


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