BANGOR, Maine — Members of the Maine Grocers Association and the newly formed Maine Food Producers Alliance came together Tuesday to discuss how they can cooperate in marketing Maine food products.
The first Maine Food Means Business event, held at Hollywood Slots Hotel & Raceway, was attended by about 150 people representing manufacturers, producers, distributors and retailers of food products made in Maine.
“We’re really excited about the partnership. We want this to be a sustainable effort,” said Aaron Anker of Grandy Oats, one of the board members for the Maine Food Producers Alliance.
Tuesday’s event featured a keynote address by Jeanne Hulit, who recently was named regional director of the U.S. Small Business Administration. She encouraged attendants to take advantage of grant and loan programs aimed specifically at small businesses that pride themselves on innovation and entrepreneurship.
“There are tremendous resources here in Maine,” she said. “But we’re not a finished product yet.”
After a lunch made solely from Maine products, attendants participated in a Food Trade Marketplace, during which producers from a variety of geographic areas and specialties displayed and sampled their products to potential buyers.
Anker said the goal of the marketplace was to create business partnerships on the spot.
“We’re still a new alliance, but already we’ve grown to more than 40 members,” he said.
Barbara Davidson, a grocer from Vinalhaven and president of the Maine Grocers Association, said the timing couldn’t be better for grocers and producers to get together.
“The interest in locally grown food and value-added products has increased tremendously,” she said.
Maine features a variety of food producers for such staples as produce, dairy and breads to more specialized products such as condiments and sweets. Anker’s business, for instance, specializes in organic granola, trail mix and roasted nuts, which he distributes to a number of area retailers.
Steff Deschenes, representing Gelato Fiasco, a Brunswick-based producer of gelato, which is similar to ice cream but contains no eggs and is typically denser and sweeter, also was looking to market her business to a wider audience.
“We’ve already expanded into some stores in the Portland area,” she said.
Each organization represented Tuesday shared goals of networking and showcasing their product, but Anker said this was the first time that both grocers and producers have come together in a meaningful way. He hopes the trend continues.