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More customers buying Make Mine Mississippi products

Last year, the Mississippi Sweet Potato Council shipped four million boxes of the carb-friendly vegetables throughout the U.S., to Canada and the U.K., all labeled with the Make Mine Mississippi logo.

“You bet the Make Mine Mississippi program helps our growers,” said the council’s Benny Graves of Vardaman, home of 16,000 acres of sweet potatoes, making Mississippi the nation’s third-largest sweet potato producing state. Last year, 110 growers sold crops valued at $50 million. “And think about all the people who see our state advertising. It’s a very beneficial program for our council, our growers, our customers and our state.”

When the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce (MDAC) kicked off the logo identification program March 28, 1999, only 100 companies were enrolled. Today, 844 members are enrolled in the free marketing program, which allows producers, manufacturers and retailers to identify products originating in Mississippi. Registered companies in 30 categories, ranging from aquaculture to specialty foods to electronics, receive an official Make Mine Mississippi service mark that can be incorporated into the packaging design for products that are at least 51% produced, processed or manufactured in the state.

“The program has really boosted my business,” said Tammy Craddock, president of Jubilations Cheesecakes in Columbus. “Our 60 varieties of cheesecakes are now available throughout the U.S.”

Since 1999, the Make Mine Mississippi program has allocated $491,520 to 406 companies, helping generate more than $70.1 million in sales and creating 1,455 new jobs, said Donna West, deputy director of MDAC’s market development division.

“It’s an amazing program that we’re continuing to grow and recruit for,” said West. “We welcome everybody who has a Mississippi product.”

Unfortunately, because of a series of state budget cuts, the maximum marketing allocation for program members has been cut in half, from $1,000 to $500 per year, based on a first-come basis. The new fiscal year match money is still being determined. During the last fiscal year, only about 65 companies received marketing dollars, said West.

“The budget has been slashed, but we’re doing the best we can, making the most with what we’ve got,” she said. “Not all companies apply for funding, although they all get applications at the beginning of every fiscal year.”
Most members use the money to defray expenses associated with print and radio advertising, promotional material and trade show booth rental.

“It’s unfortunate that the pool of money has been shrinking, but we understand budget cutbacks,” said Graves, who has participated in the program since its beginning. “We’re grateful for the help we do get. We’ve used the money to offset the costs of participating in national trade shows, which has allowed us to expand in other markets.”

Craddock said the extra promotional money enables her to participate in the annual Louisiana-Mississippi Restaurant Association Show, held every August.

“This time of the year, when business is slower, it’s real hard to come up with the money to attend,” she said. “But we can’t afford not to go because it’s always our best show. Having those funds means we don’t have to borrow money.”

Catfish is perhaps the best-known Make Mine Mississippi product. The fourth-largest agricultural commodity in the state, its crops are valued at $255 million.

“Even though the additional marketing dollars available through the program has diminished, it’s still very helpful to a company like ours, which is still fairly small,” said Larry Joiner, sales manager of Simmons Catfish Company in Yazoo City. “It’s helped us go to two additional food shows to reach distributor customers like food service companies. That’s been extremely helpful in increasing our sales and securing new customers.”

In 2002, faced with an influx of imported Vietnamese catfish, Mississippi strengthened its catfish labeling law, making the Make Mine Mississippi logo even more important. Simmons Catfish uses the logo on point-of-purchase material displayed in trade show booths.

“The public is really aware, at least in the South, with the problem of imported catfish,” said Joiner. “You’d be surprised how many people ask us: ‘now is this really Mississippi farm-raised catfish? The label proves it is.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at mbj@thewritingdesk.com.


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