March 1, 2011

Our View: Gulf of Maine seafood helped by being 'branded'

Those who want to know if their purchases are local and sustainable now have a way to tell.

If you did an Internet search to find words that have emerged from obscurity to become popular nearly overnight, one that would inevitably appear on almost anyone's list would be the word "branding."

It has evolved from its original sense -- burning a rancher's personal symbol on the hindquarters of a steer -- into a word meaning "unique identification with a commercial product."

That is, certain makes of automobile convey the idea of "luxury" when you hear them, while others say "ruggedness" or "practicality" or "economy." The companies that make them have spent considerable time and money to establish their brands with those images.

That's the goal behind a new symbol created by a consortium of seafood processors, the fishing industry and the Gulf of Maine Research Institute to create an identifiable "brand" for four species of seafood that are sustainably harvested in the Gulf of Maine.

In cooperation with Hannaford Supermarkets, those four species -- cod, haddock, lobster and northern shrimp -- will be sold with a special label saying they have been "Responsibly Harvested" in the Gulf of Maine.

In addition to spurring sales of local products, the program is also intended to help consumers distinguish them from similar products that come from outside the region or from foreign suppliers, and teach people that some Gulf species are plentiful and can be harvested without endangering their stocks.

Those are worthy goals, and will become even more effective when, as is expected, other stores and chains begin to participate in the program.

Nevertheless, this "branding" campaign is off to a good start, and is well worth consumer support.

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