LANSING -- A Greenville grower said he’s optimistic about the future
of his Michigan-made product. Apples.
“You have to feel there’s a rising sentiment for American-made products,” said Steve Klackle, owner of Klackle Orchards. “I think that’s something we can capitalize on a little bit, whether it be apples or refrigerators or cars or whatever.”
He said there is a general sense of optimism among Michigan apple growers this year, thanks in part to the Select a Taste of Michigan campaign, a joint effort of the state Department of Agriculture and Michigan Integrated Food and Farming Systems, an East Lansing-based project partially funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
The program began by promoting Michigan-grown organic and non-organic products to 68 West Michigan grocery stores and their customers from April through December 2003.
This year, organizers plan to expand into markets in the Detroit area.
Project manager Kristine Fedewa said the campaign substantially increased the amount of Michigan-grown soy products in West Michigan stores.
“I think Eden Soy has like 32 product lines,” she said of the Clinton-based company. “They only had soy milk in the stores, but the campaign introduced the whole line at Meijer.”
It was also successful in helping a few other processed goods, such as blueberry products from the Blueberry Store of the Michigan Blueberry Growers Association, make it to store shelves.
But the main focus of the campaign is on fresh products in season: apples or asparagus, for example.
Fedewa said a new report analyzing the success of the project found the West Michigan campaign increased the volume of product movement both into stores and out to consumers by 111 percent.
Christine Lietzau, the Agriculture Department campaign program manager, said there was a decreasing amount of fresh Michigan produce available in the state’s stores before the campaign because of competition from other states and other countries.
John Zimmerman, director of community and customer relations for Meijer Inc., said his company participates in the program.
The program “went very well” last year, he said, adding that there is value in labeling Michigan products.
Even so, he said, the campaign didn’t make much of a difference in sales for his company.
“I think as a retailer it’s very important that we support our local economy and our local farmers,” he said. “We go out of our way to look for the farmer who can supply our stores.”
Lietzau said program helps Michigan products remain competitive with imports, even when the Michigan product is more expensive. It benefits farmers across the state, she said.
For example, she said, the campaign increased sales of Michigan-grown asparagus by 65 percent in West Michigan, although the local asparagus cost 27 percent more than out-of-state produce.
Bob Boehm, manager of Michigan Farm Bureau's commodity and marketing department, praised efforts to expand markets for local produce.
“Select Michigan is a great program, and we're hoping we can build on it and expand it statewide," he said.
Lietzau is not sure if the program will expand beyond targeted areas, however, because the volume required to supply grocers statewide would be too demanding for local farmers.
The Agriculture Department’s original intent was to use the campaign to promote organically grown Michigan produce, she said, but the supply from farmers wasn’t large enough to meet even the demands of the West Michigan grocers.
“We’re hoping to be ready this year,” she said.
© 2004, Capital News Service, Michigan State University
School of Journalism
© 2004, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism