The food industry is huge, complex, and competitive. Food businesses spent more than $130 billion on advertising in the U.S. in 2013. Getting consumers’ attention is challenging and costly.
A strong brand and market development program for Massachusetts-grown and -produced food will help build consumer markets and institutional demand, and increase farm and food business viability. With a long history of successful statewide branding and buy local campaigns, there is ample evidence in the State of the value of these efforts. At the same time, however, the number of campaigns and brands has caused some confusion among consumers, and the lack of a universally understood definition of ‘local’ has allowed for dilution of some important efforts.
Statewide and local brands can help grow demand for Massachusetts products within the Commonwealth and beyond. Establishing a brand identity for food products that communicates the values of the State’s food system businesses, such as sustainable management practices, a commitment to food safety, and support for the local economy, can build awareness of and support for the products produced here. The success of these campaigns requires a comprehensive, adequately funded, integrated approach that engages players at every link in the supply chain.
Recommendation 1.1: Develop and maintain market data and information and disseminate to producers.
Action 1.1.1: Develop a metric to measure consumption of Massachusetts-grown and -processed foods, including seafood and seafood products.
Action 1.1.2: Explore methods of tracking local food purchases to inform market development, using a system such as the one successfully being used by local fisheries, developed by Red’s Best.
Action 1.1.3: Conduct research on the market impact of production and management practices – such as organic certification, the use of GMOs, the use of alternative fuels, and others – and disseminate that information to farmers and producers to inform their responses to demand.
Recommendation 1.2: Implement stronger Massachusetts and local branding in the food supply chain.
Action 1.2.1: Develop standardized guidelines regarding the use of the word ‘local’ when advertising and marketing food. The guidelines should be designed primarily to support Massachusetts growers, fishermen, manufacturers, and retailers, and secondarily to support New England growers, fishermen, manufacturers, and retailers.
Action 1.2.2: Dedicate funding to engage outside expertise to evaluate the effectiveness of existing MDAR brands including Mass Grown and Fresher, Made with Pride, Savor Massachusetts, Commonwealth Quality, and other local and regional brands. Based on the findings, develop funding and marketing recommendations for revived programs or for a new branding initiative. Develop program requirements to ensure that any products bearing the brands are grown, processed, and distributed following appropriate food safety standards and using environmentally sustainable practices. Develop and implement strategies to educate the public about the program’s standards. Provide funding for a full-time brand manager based at MDAR to oversee the program.
Action 1.2.3: Dedicate funding to support buy local organization promotion efforts, the Massachusetts Seafood Marketing Program, and other sectoral marketing campaigns. Incentivize and support these branding efforts to collaborate with and complement State campaigns. Establish a board, chaired by MDAR and comprised of buy local and commodity groups, to facilitate coordination of branding and marketing efforts where appropriate.
Action 1.2.4: Promote the use of the Massachusetts State brand by food businesses distributing local foods and food products outside of Massachusetts.
Action 1.2.5: Collaborate with New England and other Northeastern states in the integration of standards, co-promotion of state brands, strengthening and promoting the Harvest New England Brand, and identifying opportunities where the regional brand should be used.
Action 1.2.6: Have the Massachusetts Attorney General enforce truth-in-advertising laws on food products sold in Massachusetts concerning point of origin and other claims.
Action 1.2.7: Train farmers and fishermen in point-of-sale packaging, branding, labeling, and identification, particularly when selling in the wholesale chain.
Recommendation 1.3: Provide education and connections throughout the food chain to promote the value of Massachusetts-raised ingredients and Massachusetts-processed foods.
Action 1.3.2: Develop a grant program for innovations in agricultural marketing related to production, processing, marketing, and distribution.
Action 1.3.1: Strengthen technical assistance capability within MDAR to help farms develop integrated, cost effective marketing plans for both retail and wholesale channel development.
Action 1.3.3: Provide technical assistance and marketing resources to strengthen farmers markets, CSAs, and roadside stands.
Action 1.3.4: Provide incentives to local processors, distributors, retailers, and restaurants that feature Massachusetts-grown and -produced foods.
Action 1.3.5: Dedicate MDAR staff resources to facilitate interactions between growers and producers of Massachusetts foods, retail and wholesale buyers, and individual businesses, to develop direct sales relationships.
Action 1.3.6: Strengthen inter-agency collaboration between MDAR, Massachusetts Office of Business Development, the Massachusetts Small Business Administration, universities, and others to support the development of new value-added market opportunities.
Action 1.3.7: Identify, support, and expand opportunities for the development of markets outside of the Commonwealth, regionally, domestically, and internationally through the establishment of targeted out-of-area promotional and sourcing plans.
Action 1.3.8: Promote export development programs and services at the State and federal level to Massachusetts farms and other food businesses, and coordinate development and expansion of these markets.
Recommendation 1.4: Educate retail-level food system businesses and consumers about local foods.
Action 1.4.1: Develop contacts, resources, and incentives that facilitate the purchase of local food and agricultural products by retail and wholesale food buyers, restaurants, and shoppers.
Action 1.4.2: Provide seasonality education targeted for both retail-level produce and seafood buyers and consumers.
Action 1.4.3: Provide training for consumers and chefs on use and sourcing of seasonal produce and seafood.
Action 1.4.4: Expand the State’s culinary tourism and agritourism programs to draw visitors to farms and businesses that feature locally grown and produced products, such as dairies, wineries, distilleries, cider producers, agricultural events, festivals, and restaurants that feature local products.
Action 1.4.5: Develop educational materials to improve public understanding about how food is produced and the costs of production as related to retail prices.
Action 1.4.6: Develop consumer educational materials about nutritional value of frozen, canned, dried, and otherwise preserved foods.
Action 1.4.7: Expand nutrition education available through the UMass Extension Nutrition Education Program and UMass Amherst’s School of Public Health and Health Sciences’ Department of Nutrition regarding consuming, cooking, preserving, and nutritional of local and cultural foods.
 Statista. (2013). Advertising spending of the food and beverage industry in the United States in 2013, by medium (in thousands of dollars). Accessed November 2015 from http://goo.gl/8T1skt.