Ohio Proud Spreads Word of Locally Made Food, ProductsOhio is proud of its locally grown and made agricultural products – and wants everyone to know. Established by the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) in 1993 to spread agricultural awareness, the Ohio Proud program is a great way for consumers to find products made and grown in Ohio.

Plus, it provides Ohio growers and producers an opportunity to increase sales and reach new markets. Among the many benefits of Ohio Proud membership, businesses are able to use the registered Ohio Proud logo in all their marketing efforts, which gives consumers a quick, reliable way to identify locally made products.

Reaping the Rewards of Branding

“The Ohio Proud program offers several additional benefits to our members,” says Lori Panda, senior program manager at ODA. “We coordinate different types of events where companies can gather, sample and sell their products directly to consumers.

“We also host the annual Ohio Proud Food Summit, which is like a mini trade show for buyers from the retail and restaurant industries. It’s a great way for those folks to network with each other, and we have had several companies over the years get into very large major grocery stores due to them attending that event.”

Jason Wish, owner of Wishwell Farms in Logan County, attended the Ohio Proud Food Summit in 2013. The company was matched with potential buyers for its Wishwell Farms Sweet Pepper Relish, a value-added product that has been in the Wish family for several generations. Wish farms grows about 1,000 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat in addition to the 75 acres of produce, and over the years has expanded to local farmers markets.

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“At farmers markets you can usually meet the grower and learn about how and where the produce was grown, along with what growing practices were used, either organic or conventional,” Wish says. “Thanks to farmers markets, we have been able to keep more family members on the farm, carrying on our family farm legacy to the next generation. These markets are also a great way to test out new products and get instant feedback from the consumer.”

Panda says Ohio Proud also offers co-op advertising to its partners. “Most Ohio Proud partners are small, family businesses and cannot afford advertising on their own. Co-op advertising is another benefit for our partners,” she says.

Yielding New Customers

Andrew Metz, chief marketing officer of Gillies Old Fashioned Homemade Noodles, says his company became involved with Ohio Proud to increase the company’s brand awareness.

“Like most small businesses, our marketing budget was minimal,” he says. “We viewed a membership with Ohio Proud as an avenue to reach our Ohio-based customers as well as an organization that could help provide us with some guidance in reaching potential buyers and new markets.”

Metz says the company saw the value in the relationship almost immediately.

“We perform sampling events and demos for The Kroger Company and Walmart, and Ohio Proud has become a talking point we mention to every customer. Mentioning that we are a part of Ohio Proud is always perceived by our samplers as a value added to our product. We respect our relationship so much that we include the Ohio Proud logo on all our packaging,” Metz says.

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Brooke Gammie, a third-generation fruit grower and part of the family-owned Quarry Hill Orchards in Berlin Heights, says she and her husband joined the program to better connect with local consumers.

“Part of our priorities upon entering this farming industry was to communicate our branding in a very thoughtful, meaningful way that allowed people to think about where their food is coming from,” Gammie says.

“We wanted to focus more on shaking hands, meeting people, dropping off at grocery stores, farmers markets and schools, and having a more direct relationship. We needed a brand that helped us do that, and I identified with the Ohio Proud program as having a similar mission.”

Gammie says the Ohio Proud program has helped her attract new customers at farmers markets because “when customers come in, they ask, ‘What’s local? What’s grown here?’ Right away, they have a visual asset that they can tell what’s in season and local just by merely looking at this Ohio Proud stamp right on the pricing of the produce.”