The Cabot Creamery Cooperative has been synonymous with Vermont for almost a century.
But because of concerns raised about accuracy in advertising, Cabot a year ago began quietly changing its logo and its branding.
The co-op no longer uses the Vermont name to market many of its products.
Vermont farmers launched the Cabot co-op in 1919, and its dairy products are now sold around the world. For years, the Cabot logo reflected its roots with a green map of the state and the word Vermont displayed under the red letters of the name Cabot.
No longer, according to Roberta MacDonald, Cabot’s senior vice president for marketing.
"We are converting to our enhanced logo which replaces the green state with a green barn and a declaration that Cabot is owned by farm families throughout New York and New England," she says.
MacDonald says a discussion with the state attorney general’s office about a year ago prompted the change.
State rules say dairy products labeled as Vermont have to be made here, and 75 percent of the milk has to come from the state. If not, the place of origin has to be disclosed.
That wasn’t the case with Cabot’s butter, which is made in Springfield, Massachusetts, and with cream from cows not just in Vermont but in New York and New England.
Cabot decided to take the name Vermont off its butter. But the makeover then went beyond the butter boxes. Cabot trucks, many Cabot products and the Cabot web site now all sport the new logo – without the image or the name of the Green Mountain State.
"The reality is we have been wrestling with how do you take a brand as well known as Cabot and now accommodate sourcing everywhere and still within the state of Vermont meet the rules and regulations," MacDonald says. "So it was not out of pique, it was not out of antipathy or we’ll show you. It truly was: ‘let’s take a look at the rules as they exist and let’s be as straight as we can.’"
The name Vermont adds cachet to a product. But the state also gets some free advertising when well-known brands like Cabot tout their Vermont origins around the country. So Commerce Secretary Lawrence Miller says he regrets Cabot’s decision.
"It’s a very painful issue," Miller says. "I think particularly for the co-op but also for us. Cabot has been a tremendous marketing partner for the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing."
Elliot Burg is the assistant attorney general who discussed the label issue with Cabot a year ago. He says the co-op could use Vermont on its label, but it would also have to disclose where the milk or butter is from.
"Apparently Cabot made the choice that rather than disclose for particular products that they were manufactured out of state or had a significant amount of out-of-state milk they would simply remove the word Vermont from the labeling, and in that way comply with the law," Burg says.
Cabot says the state’s point of origin rules have unintended consequences because companies like Cabot with deep Vermont ties may have to forego the state’s name now that they’ve grown beyond its borders.
But Burg says the rules exist to protect consumers and the Vermont name.
"That’s what the whole effort is about: truth in advertising," he says.
Cabot says few people have noticed the logo change. The state says it’s working on a program to license the Vermont brand to companies. It will also require disclosure to consumers on where products come from.