… This year would have been the 50th year for the Ham Breakfast...
Ag Groups Lose Golden PR Opportunity
by Jerry Goshert, The Farmer's Exchange (IN)
June 19, 2020
The Indiana State Fair's cancellation decision for 2020 is expected to have an adverse impact on the public relations efforts of many commodity groups that host large promotions during the annual 17-day event in Indianapolis. As a result of the fair being called off, dairy farmers won't be serving milkshakes and grilled cheese sandwiches in the Dairy Bar, hog producers won't be grilling pork chops in the Pork Tent, and cattlemen won't be barbecuing ribeye steaks in the Cattlemen's Tent.
In the wake of the state fair's cancellation, these groups are thinking creatively about how they can adjust and move forward. However, their leaders agree there is simply no way to replace these lost opportunities.
One of the most recognizable food stands at the state fair is the Dairy Bar, a circular shaped ice cream palace that serves flavored milkshakes, hand-dipped cones and grilled cheese sandwiches by the thousands. In an ordinary year, a hungry fair patron might approach the window to order and discover that their server is none other than Indiana's second highest government official, the lieutenant governor.
Last year, with help from Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, Indiana dairy farmers and other volunteers, the Dairy Bar served up over 70,000 milkshakes and 40,000 grilled cheese sandwiches.
"Even a busy McDonald's doesn't do that much business," joked Jenni Browning, CEO of the American Dairy Assn., which operates the popular food stand.
She said the prices for milkshakes and other dairy items are very reasonable, as ADA views the Dairy Bar as a promotion rather than a money-maker. Browning said the biggest loss resulting from the state fair's cancellation is the missed opportunity to promote dairy products directly to consumers. She said the state fair, with nearly 900,000 visitors, represents a major public relations platform for ADAI.
According to Browning, the Dairy Bar will be open this year to serve those who attend the 4-H livestock shows. However, the volume is expected to be much less than it would be in a normal year.
In addition to the Dairy Bar, ADAI also invites an artist to transform a massive block of cheese into a dairy-themed sculpture inside the Ag-Hort Building. Many curious fairgoers often stand in admiration as the artist, known as the Cheese Lady, uses her knife to refine three 640-pound Cheddar blocks into something recognizable. Last year's design paid tribute to the fair's theme of "Heroes of the Heartland."
Browning said the state fair's cancellation is "crushing" for many people who volunteer at the Dairy Bar and view it almost like a summer camp experience. She added that she understands and supports the state fair board's decision to cancel this year's event.
She added that the dairy association is thinking creatively about how to use the money budgeted for state fair promotions.
In the case of the beef industry, the Indiana State Fair is the largest annual fundraiser for the Indiana Beef Cattle Assn. Without income from the two Cattlemen's Tents, the Indiana beef industry will take "a direct financial hit," according to Joe Moore, IBCA executive vice president.
Each year, approximately 600 volunteers, including many farmers and industry stakeholders, help serve 70,000 beef sandwiches to consumers inside the two Cattlemen's Tents at the state fairgrounds. These tents generate nearly $500,000 in income for the beef commodity group. Moore says that money is invested in the group's non-checkoff activities.
In addition to the lost income, IBCA and other groups will miss out on valuable interactions with consumers this summer.
Moore said "it's a shame" the state fair had to be called off, but, like Browning, he said IBCA understands the reasons and supports that historic decision.
One of the newest exhibits at the state fair is the Indiana Grown Marketplace, located inside the Ag/Horticulture Building. The shopping venue allows farmers to sell locally grown products like honey.
Bruce Kettler, director of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture, said the retail store had become very successful, reflecting the growth of the Indiana Grown program, which now has 1,700 members. However, with the cancellation of the 2020 Indiana State Fair, Kettler said ISDA is working to provide an e-commerce platform so that members can continue to sell their products to consumers.
The pork industry also has a major footprint at the Indiana State Fair, with three tents serving delicious pork sandwiches. This year was to be Indiana Pork's 51st year serving pork burgers, pork chop sandwiches and other food items to fairgoers. Last year, the most popular item on the menu was barbecued sandwiches, with over 16,000 served.
Jeanette Merritt, director of Checkoff Programs for Indiana Pork, said a visit to the Indiana Pork Tent is considered a "must do" for people visiting the state fair. While most of Indiana Pork's budget comes from checkoff dollars, Merritt said the revenue from the pork tents was to be shared with county pork producer organizations and FFA groups that staff the tents. This was the first year for that new system, she said.
For Indiana Pork, the biggest impact from the cancellation decision, according to Merritt, is the loss of a valuable opportunity to interact with consumers and tell the story of modern pork production.
"It's definitely a hit to our industry and our publicity efforts," she said.
Another pork industry tradition at the state fair is the Ham Breakfast, which kicks off the fair week and features the governor and a who's who of Indiana agriculture. This year would have been the 50th year for the Ham Breakfast...