March 13, 2010

Maine brand boosts sales

BETH QUIMBY

— By

Staff Writer

Daniel Patry has been making and selling Kate's Butter since 1981, but it wasn't until 2006 -- when they started highlighting their Maine connection -- that the business really took off.

Today, the Old Orchard Beach creamery is close to reaching its production capacity, churning out more than a million pounds of butter a year. Kate's Butter is debuting on New York grocery store shelves, and grocers are so eager to stock it that they forego the slotting fees they normally charge suppliers to place their products in their supermarkets.

A new line of Kate's Real Buttermilk was scheduled to hit Maine grocery stores this weekend.

Patry attributes a large part of his success to a switch in packaging that emphasizes his product's Maine origins. Two years ago, a map of Maine was added to his butter containers, with a farm scene showing Old Orchard Beach and a little story about the history of Kate's.

Although winning the 2006 World Dairy Expo butter championship also helped boost sales, the repackaging really sent a message about the purity of his product, Patry said.

''Maine is known for its clean air and clean water,'' he said.

Kate's Butter is one of a number of companies capitalizing on the ''Maine brand.''

Marketing specialists say Maine's image as a state of uncontaminated farmlands, unspoiled forests and sparkling waters is a perfect match for the rising demand for organic and locally grown or produced products. More Maine manufacturers, especially food suppliers, are recognizing that, say marketing specialists.

''Adding 'Made in Maine,' a Maine address or Maine wording in a logo gives value-added momentum to companies,'' said designer Rod Williams of AR Williams Creative in Biddeford, who was a designer for Tom's of Maine for nearly 30 years.

Williams first realized the power of the Maine brand when he began to work for the Kennebunk company in the early 1980s, then known as Tom's Personal Care. A company director suggested changing the name of the then-struggling enterprise to Tom's of Maine.

So, owner Tom Chappell changed over all of the packaging and company logos.

''Their sales took off and never came back,'' said Williams, who also redesigned the Kate's Butter package.

Using Maine's image to sell products is not new. Such Maine institutions as L.L. Bean and Old Town Canoe and Kayak have long exploited the image of the rugged Maine outdoorsman to sell their sporting goods. The round, white potato became synonymous with Maine since the state started marketing its potatoes in the 1940s with the line: ''It takes Maine soil, Maine climate and Maine farmers to produce Maine potatoes.''

Don Flannery, executive of the Maine Potato Board, says when people think of potatoes, they think of Idaho or Maine, even though Washington, Colorado Wisconsin and North Dakota grow more acres of potatoes than Maine.

When it opened three years ago, Maine Distilleries LLC of Freeport banked on the positive image of the Maine potato and the state's heritage of family farming and preservation of open space to sell its Cold River ''Distinctive Maine Potato'' Vodka.

''It is very important to our marketing and positioning,'' said Bob Harkins, chief executive officer of the artisan distillery.

In a nod to another Maine icon, Maine Distilleries teamed up this year with Milbridge-based Wyman's, a leading supplier of wild blueberry products in Milbridge, to produce Cold River Blueberry Flavored Vodka.

Matt Seiler said he had no business plan or marketing plan when he created a line of natural and organic soft drinks in 2002, and named his company Maine Root.

Seiler said at first people warned him he would limit sales if he named his product after a region. But he saw the success of soft drinks manufacturers such as AriZona Iced Tea, invented by two guys from Brooklyn, and Nantucket Nectars, a Cambridge, Mass.-based company, and figured his Maine-branded root beer, which is bottled in Portland, might catch on.

The name seems to work, he said. Today, Seiler's soda is sold in all 50 states, and his sales have seen triple-digit growth over the past three years.

''People have a good mental picture of Maine that makes them smile,'' he said.

Not every state has a strong brand image it can exploit to push its products. And the Maine cachet only goes so far as a marketing tool, said Nancy Artz, marketing professor at the University of Southern Maine.

''If you are a high-tech company in Silicon Valley or Route 128, you might want to play that up, but do you really want to be known as the computer chip maker of Maine?'' she said.

Maine's brand image would probably not help to sell high-fashion clothing, she said.

Those who use the Maine brand to market their products say quality is what makes a success in the long run.

''You can put Maine on it, but you got to have the quality with it, too. Quality is still number one,'' said Flannery.

Others who have banked on the Maine mystique agreed. Seiler said great packaging and a great name are not enough to sell his product.

''It doesn't mean anything unless it tastes good,'' Seiler said.

Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

bquimby@pressherald.com

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