Kowtowing to rules, Cabot drops 'Vermont' logo
MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - Cabot Creamery Cooperative is losing a little "Vermont" on its labels, and that has government officials worried that Vermont is losing a little publicity.
The farmer-owned cooperative, which makes cheese, butter and other dairy products, is phasing out labels that reference the state's name in the logo because not all its products are wholly Vermont-made.
One old logo has "Cabot" stamped over a green outline of the state, with the word "Vermont" next to it. Another just has the shape of Vermont under the word "Cabot." The new one has a green barn and the words "Owned by our Farm Families in New York & New England."
Some state officials are worried about the change, saying Cabot's widespread distribution helps promote other Vermont products and tourism, and are considering changing state law to let Cabot keep the Vermont reference in its logo.
"For this Vermont boy, Cabot is Vermont and Vermont is Cabot," Gov. Peter Shumlin said in an interview Tuesday.
The state zealously guards the reputation of its famous foods. It even has a "maple specialist" who checks on the state's most famous product to make sure it tastes right, has the correct sugar concentration and is properly graded.
While Cabot has been synonymous with Vermont since the cooperative was founded in 1919, the state also has a tough truth-in-labeling law.
Take a food product like butter.
If a company wants to use the state's name to help sell butter, 75 percent of the cream must be from Vermont and 75 percent of the butter itself must be made in the state. If not, a company wanting to use the Vermont name on its logo has to disclose on the front of its package that it's actually an out-of-state product.
Assistant Attorney General Elliot Burg, head of his office's consumer protection division, said the butter issue came to his attention during negotiations leading to an agreement last year with Cabot on a separate matter: the labeling of products as not coming from cows treated with synthetic growth hormone.
Cabot's butter is made in West Springfield, Mass., from cream sourced from around New England, said Roberta MacDonald, Cabot's vice president for marketing.
But Vermont references were "all over the packaging," Burg said.
Besides having Vermont in its logo, Cabot was using packaging space to tout Vermont woodworkers and their products. A reasonable consumer would have concluded that the butter came from Vermont, Burg said.
MacDonald said Cabot agreed with Burg's concern and speeded up introducing the new logo on its butter.
Cabot's cheeses and other products continue to be made in Vermont, but the milk used in making them comes from farms around northern New England and New York.
MacDonald said the company is switching over to the new packaging without Vermont on the logo as it runs out of its existing packaging stocks.
Shumlin said he was working on a compromise proposal to be unveiled in the coming days "that might lead us to a solution that would preserve the integrity of the Vermont brand and enable Vermont companies like Cabot to spread the Vermont love."
Richard Stammer, CEO of Agri-Mark Inc., a Northeast dairy cooperative that includes Cabot, said that even if the state changes its truth-in-labeling law, Cabot will not change its logo back.
"That's our brand. ... It's a serious thing," he said.
But Stammer said the word Vermont will still show up elsewhere on Cabot's packaging. In the case of cheddar cheese and other Vermont-made products, "Vermont will still be on our labels, it's just not going to be on our logo."
Aside from the logo, Stammer said, "nothing else is changing. We've still got our roots in Vermont. We've got about 600 employees and a $100 million investment in Vermont. We're very committed to Vermont."
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