For those of us who enthusiastically support Skagit agriculture, it’s hard to believe the following statement, “In general, consumers in the state of Washington are relatively unaware of the Skagit Valley Agricultural Region’s products beyond tulips.”
This startling assertion comes from a 2017 online survey of 900 consumer and product purchaser interviews in Washington State. The survey was a component in an extensive effort entitled “Assessment of Skagit Valley’s Agricultural Economic Opportunity” completed by the Port of Skagit and members of the Innovation Partnership Zone (IPZ).
Focused on value-added agriculture, the IPZ is comprised of public and private enterprises and local farmers working in concert toward their published mission, “to support and promote innovative approaches in the agricultural industry that combine research and technology, resulting in new industries, jobs, and an overall robust and diverse economy centered around the Valley’s rich agricultural resources.” Part of that research led to the survey and then to the topic of this month’s Dirt, Genuine Skagit Valley.
Creating a Terroir Brand
To increase the recognition and demand for Skagit Valley agricultural products, the new local branding program, Genuine Skagit Valley, will emphasize the unique terroir of the region. The concept of terroir originated with vineyards and the unique wines produced under their specific growing environment, but it is applicable to a wide range of agricultural products. In the news release announcing Genuine Skagit Valley, terroir was aptly defined as “the characteristic taste and flavor imparted to a product by the environment in which it is produced, including factors such as the soil, topography, and climate—all factors that set Skagit agriculture apart from other growing regions.”
Federal Certification Mark
Genuine Skagit Valley is a federal certification mark. Granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office, it is, in the Office’s words, “a type of trademark that is used to show consumers that particular goods and/or services, or their providers, have met certain standards.” According to genuineskagitvalley.com, the standards which apply here are the following, “Agricultural products that are grown entirely in the Skagit Valley qualify for identification by the certification mark, as well as agriculture-related service providers that are based in Skagit County. In order for a processed food product to qualify, at least 75% of the main ingredients must be grown in Skagit County.”
The Genuine Skagit Valley mark does not replace any producer’s own branding, it magnifies it. The emphasis is on origin. By highlighting the origin aspect of the product, in conjunction with others doing the same, a producer spreads the word that this region is special (again, terroir). If one Genuine Skagit Valley product wows the buyer than the likelihood to try or even seek out others with the same mark increases. Studies have repeatedly shown that today’s consumers much prefer knowing where products originate; the Genuine Skagit Valley mark gives that information quickly and reliably. Not only does the individual producer benefit, but so too does the entire region.
A Unified Marketing Strategy
Local producers and service providers who meet the criteria are being encouraged to join the Genuine Skagit Valley program. For an annual membership fee of $250, enrollees will have the right to use the Genuine Skagit Valley mark, using materials supplied by the program, in their own marketing, packaging, and promotional efforts. But that’s just the beginning. Members will also gain from the combined push to promote Genuine Skagit Valley within our region and beyond to national and even international markets. Membership benefits cover such material advantages as inclusion in advertising and media campaigns, in-store displays and outreach, website listing and profiles, social media presence, and connection through retail, wholesale and industry tradeshows, among others.
Among those agricultural producers who have already joined the program are such leading lights as Washington Lettuce & Vegetable Co.//Hughes Farms, Skagit Valley Malting, Bow Hill Blueberries and Samish Bay Cheese.
A Major Boost
The Genuine Skagit Valley certification mark is the property of the Port of Skagit and the Port is legally the certifier, but the Northwest Agriculture Business Center (NABC) is administering the program itself. The NABC was recently able to secure—under intense competition—a $348,000 grant from the USDA’s Farmers Market Promotion Program on behalf of Genuine Skagit Valley. The grant will help fund three years of the program, covering staffing, producer training, program development and marketing. According to David Bauermeister, Executive Director of NABC, “Policy, research, preservation and promotion work hand in hand in support of Skagit Valley’s farms, ranchers and food producers. Now the promotion arm will have much-needed baseline funding to identify Skagit Valley as a premier, preferred and distinctive origin brand.”
Keep An Eye Out
In the very near future you’ll start to see many products either directly labeled Genuine Skagit Valley or displayed with that identifying logo. Do your part to support the initiative by favoring the finest agricultural products you can buy, the ones proudly labeled, Genuine Skagit Valley.