Let’s imagine you make raspberry jam to die for. It started as a hobby, though every time you take a jar to neighbors, they exclaim, “You could sell this stuff!” Maybe you could. Is it just a dream? How do you get started? What do you do next?
It turns out, there’s an app for that. Well, in a sense.
There’s a state program sponsored by the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food for that. It’s called Utah’s Own and it supports local food producers.
“As a marketing arm, what we provide for food members, is if you’re a start up business you can come in and talk to somebody about the steps to take. We’ll give you social media help, we have free photography for them to take pictures of their food to make their banners.”
That’s Laurie Seron. She started out in her own kitchen making tortilla chips. Now, Laurie’s Buffalo Gourmet hand cut tortilla chips are sold in stores across Utah. In 2015, she took on another role as as Program Director for Utah’s Own.
You’ve noticed the bold Utah’s Own label on product packaging at the grocery store. To receive the label, a company must meet three eligibility requirements:
First, it must produce a food, beverage or skin care product that incorporates agriculture ingredients from Utah.
Second, it must be registered with the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food Regulatory Department.
And, third, it must have a valid business license.
When we pick up that bottle of salad dressing with a Utah’s Own label, we know we’re getting a product with local, regulated ingredients from an accountable company--useful validations to be sure. However, from a director’s view point, Seron describes something more:
“Utah’s Own is about more than just putting the tags on our shelves. We love our food community, we do everything we can to market and help our food community grow. That includes farmers, the meat industry, the dairy industry and food manufacturers, distilleries--we have a large group of people. Really, it’s about trying to get them as much exposure as possible.”
Added exposure via marketing helps local businesses find their footing and survive in a competitive industry. Going further, Utah’s Own also drives exposure via industry networking to help local businesses connect with others and thrive.
For instance, in 2017 Utah’s Own sponsored an event to connect members of the food community--essentially Speed Dating for farmers and food manufacturers. Once they got talking, the magic happened: a food producer who prefers a specific variety of garlic talked with a garlic farmer who is now planting the variety she needs. A baker known for his peach tarts met a peach farmer--the two were located only two blocks apart from each other.
Utah’s Own is all about facilitating these connections for food businesses, notes Seron; discussions on volume and cost progress, but do so within a deeper person-to-person relationship. The same holds true, she feels, for consumers choosing a product with the Utah’s Own label. While buying local benefits our economy, we also gain insight into where our food comes from and we have the chance to put people behind the products.
“These are actual people that live in our community and they are working really hard to make this. And, wow, wouldn’t it be great to be a part of that story and a part of their business growing?When I stand up in front of a room full of local manufacturers and farmers, I really, honestly can hardly talk. I mean know their world because I’ve been in their world. It is a room full of the most courageous people that you could ever meet, because these are people who have a dream. And they don’t just have the dream, they make this dream come true.”
Looking deeper, the Utah’s Own label may be on the packaging, but it’s Utah’s own people who make it great.