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Flavors of the Mountains: The Vermont experience

Manchester, Vermont - December 2, 2010

Prepping the feast starts early-- and Vermont is on the menu. Fresh-off-the-farm Vermont turkeys-- that's what the Equinox Resort and Spa in Manchester used for their Thanksgiving dinner. Year-round they try to shine a spotlight on Vermont and its products.

"People come here to visit Vermont; they don't come here to have New York cuisine or have stuff shipped in from France, they come here to experience what Vermont has to offer," said Jeffrey Russell, the executive chef at the Equinox.

"I think Vermont's at the head of the pack right now," said Jane Kolodinsky, the chair of the department of community development at the University of Vermont.

Kolodinsky studies the effect marketing the Vermont name has on food products.

"I would say in the last 5 years the Vermont name is really growing out there in the arena of food products," Kolodinsky said.

From farm fresh produce to other goods like maple syrup, whatever the Equinox can buy locally they do-- marketing it every step of the way so consumers know.

"To support local business first of all, and second the quality is superior and quality is our number one priority here, quality comes before price," Russell said.

"The craftsmanship of Vermont, the quintessential New England state qualities; people like to get a little piece of that and get a little feeling of that when they're eating or drinking the products," Kolodinsky said.

Cabot Cheese pioneered this type of marketing when it first started in 1919.

"It started by literally lobbing cheese hunks at the travelers at the ski resorts and if it weren't for the ski areas I don't know if we'd be in business," said Roberta MacDonald, a senior vice president of marketing at Cabot.

Cabot now markets in the Deep South and can be found in retail giants like Walmart and just about everywhere along the East Coast.

"To get us going, Vermont was essential, predominately because of the people that visited here. The name itself had great resonance in the cities of New York and Boston and the travelers from those cities came here tasted it and craved it when they got home-- it was the heart of our marketing," MacDonald said.

"One of the things Vermont has found about really selling its brand was having its customers have a connection with the state," Kolodinsky said.

A connection that for many people begins with Vermont maple syrup.

"The Vermont name has always had its own cache of special quality about it from way back because Vermont syrup for example has been around for hundreds of years," Kolodinsky said.

It's more than a trend for resorts who work hard to entice visitors to spend their dollars in Vermont.

The Equinox doesn't stop with local food; they try to give guests the full Vermont experience. That means everything from history to events to attractions throughout the state.

"I think the motivation for travel as we move into the next decade has been more experiential; one where folks are looking for a component of education and an actual experience that they wouldn't have anywhere else," said Michael Chagnon, the director of sales and marketing and communications at the Equinox.

"No matter where I am I like to try to experience the town, the city, the country-- whatever it is," said Christine Scarlett, a visitor from Boston.

Using Vermont as a launch pad, businesses small and large are finding out it works.

"Research has shown that Vermont products can demand up to 10, 20 to 50 percent premium depending on what the product is," Kolodinsky said. "Because Vermont stands for a special quality, a certain work ethic and even safety in today's food world."

And for Chef Jeffrey Russell it isn't just the taste that doesn't compare. "It's the passion from the Vermont farmers passed down through the passion of the cooks and myself make a great meal."

What seems to be the right recipe for Vermont.

Gina Bullard - WCAX News

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