Eleven Maine food producers are joining forces at a major West Coast food expo to promote the state’s history of innovation in the industry.

Drawing on the state’s bicentennial, they will be pushing Maine’s “200 Years of Innovation” at the Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, California, which begins next week and draws about 3,500 exhibitors and nearly 90,000 people in the food industry.

Colleen Craig, the brand manager for Wyman’s, said the five-day expo is an important event in the food industry, particularly among those interested in natural products. That makes it a great setting for promoting Maine and its products, she said.

“You have to sort of be there to stay on the radar of the latest of what’s happening in the industry,” said Craig, who said she got the idea about six months ago to collaborate with other Maine food producers to promote the state’s food industry.

Wyman’s, a family-owned business headquartered in Down East Maine, is the United States’ second largest brand in the retail frozen fruit category, with its most notable product being wild blueberries.

The other companies taking part are in the collaboration are Bristol Seafood, EnviroLogix, Gelato Fiasco, GrandyOats, Luke’s Lobster, Nibmor, Ocean’s Balance, Simply Served, Scott and Jon’s, and Stonewall Kitchen.

Craig said the companies with booths at the expo will be handing out tote bags and postcards emblazoned with the slogan, along with the original Maine state flag and logos of the companies involved. She said the group got financial backing from the Maine Center for Entrepreneurs and the state Department of Economic and Community Development.

Maine has developed a reputation as a foodie destination, she said, and the marketing effort will seek to broaden how people think about Maine food.

“We have great food and great chefs, but we’re also at the forefront of food innovation,” she said. “Each company has a unique story.”

Examples of innovation, she said, include Wyman’s “Just Fruit,” a cup of frozen fruit along with Greek yogurt bites, and Bristol Seafood’s “My Fish Dish,” frozen seafood paired with toppings that can be cooked quickly at home. The Wyman’s product, she said, is a finalist for an innovation award at the expo.

Luke’s Lobster works with Wyman’s to sell pickled wild Maine blueberries in its salads, said Ben Conniff, the chief brand officer for the restaurant chain, which now has 26 locations. The restaurants’ menus identify the wild blueberries as coming from Maine, he said.

And Luke’s is expanding its line of food sold in markets, he said. The effort began with Whole Foods and lobster meat, Conniff said, and will expand this year to other markets with lobster mac ‘n cheese and lobster bisque.

But Conniff said Luke’s sees its real innovation in the way it has built its supply chain on a personal connection with Maine lobstermen.

“There’s a deep connection with the fishermen themselves and a control of every part of the supply chain,” he said.

Although most of Luke’s restaurants are outside of Maine, the company wants to maintain its ties to the state, Conniff said. The founder of the company, Luke Holden, grew up in Maine and the company has a processing plant in Saco.

“The Maine brand is so strong, in and of itself,” Conniff said. “Innovation is just inherent to people in Maine and bringing that story in front of an international audience makes sense.”

Bristol Seafood also is looking forward to highlighting Maine, said Irene Moon, vice president of marketing for the Portland company.

The company recently launched a line of frozen seafood dishes that customers can take home and cook. The innovation will give the company another way to shine at a very crowded show, she said.

“Expo West is a gigantic show,” she said. “The way to stand out is really difficult. If we join forces with other Maine companies, we have a better chance.”


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