Enrollment in the state Department of Agriculture's PA Preferred program has been closing in on 2,000 licensees after launching nearly 10 years ago.
Legislation signed in 2011 gave a sense of permanence to the product brand, which benefits a range of Pennsylvania business interests.
The 1,976 members the department said are part of the initiative as of earlier this week use the PA Preferred logo with products they make, sell or otherwise are involved with to signify the items come from Pennsylvania.
Members also get other benefits, such as participation in buyer-vendor shows, PA Preferred Coordinator Bryan Keister said.
The brand, and the support it represents, looks like it might be adding to Pennsylvania's attraction for new and innovative food business firms.
State Rep. Stephen Bloom, R-Cumberland County, sponsored House Bill 1424 to make PA Preferred a more permanent creation of the legislature. Around the time the governor signed the bill in fall 2011, there were about 1,500 members, the department said.
Through the years, there have been branding programs to promote Pennsylvania products that came and went with different administrations, Keister said.
"The main purpose of the legislation was to say that 'this is what PA Preferred is and this is what it is always going to be,'" Keister said.
If a business is invested in marketing a brand and making its customers aware of it, it's good to ensure the efforts aren't wasted if the program changes or goes away, he said.
To become part of the program as a licensee, a business fills out an online application with some basic information and answers questions depending on the type of business it is.
The department reviews the application and follows up to answer any other questions if needed. Once approved, the business is added to the state's list, Keister said.
Becoming a licensee means the business can use the logo in its marketing, participate in buyer-vendor events and enjoy other benefits, he said.
Consumers are increasingly aware of the brand, Keister said. The department launched a social media campaign for PA Preferred and the Facebook page has grown to about 11,000 likes, he said.
The state also has used the Pennsylvania Farm Show to market and increase awareness of PA Preferred. About 585,000 people attended the most recent installment.
"A lot of people took away information about PA Preferred," department spokeswoman Samantha Krepps said.
Earlier this year, Cumberland County-based Giant Food Stores unveiled its PA Preferred store-brand milk, spokesman Christopher Brand said.
The commitment means more of Giant's overall business is done with producers in the commonwealth, Brand said. The selling power is strong enough for that commitment.
When he took his job with the company, friends knew this area for having a large dairy industry, Brand said.
"And I think there is an aura about Pennsylvania milk," he said.
Dairy is far from the extent of Giant's PA Preferred participation.
Its first vendor show under the PA Preferred name was in 2005, when vendors came to the event in Cumberland County to market their products to Giant, Brand said. Giant now has more than 100 PA Preferred vendors.
Sourcing locally is good for the local economy and makes good business sense because customers want it, he said. Customers today want to know where their food comes from.
Also, PA Preferred does seem to be providing more opportunities to new, innovative and niche vendors to market themselves alongside larger and more-established players, he said.
PA Preferred facilitated Healthy Mom LLC's introduction to Giant, said Hamilton Colwell, who founded the Greek-style yogurt firm that does business as Maia Yogurt.
Major retailers for Maia Yogurt have already included Texas-based Whole Foods Market Inc. and California-based Safeway Inc., and the company is growing the list, such as with Giant Food Stores, Colwell said.
The idea for Maia Yogurt was inspired several years ago by Colwell's cousin, who was pregnant and was looking for a better yogurt product, he said.
In 2008, he started making batches on his stove in New York. Everyone thought it was amazing, Colwell said.
"So I knew we had a better product," he said. "My next job was to find the right home to make this product."
He went straight to the heart of dairy country — Central Pennsylvania. Colwell quit his job in investment banking, and Maia Yogurt went on the market in summer 2010, he said.
The business's operations are based along with a manufacturing partner in Snyder County, Colwell said.
"I think Pennsylvania is a tremendous resource for all young, midstage and developed companies," he said. "And I think the PA Preferred program showcases its commitment to the local producer."