Marcus Benedetti is president and chief executive officer of Petaluma-based Clover Stornetta Farms, a third-generation dairy processor.Question-and-answer articles with conference speakers.Keynote speakerWalter Robb, Whole Foods MarketSpecial speakersKaren Ross, California Department of Food and AgricultureEllen Feeney, Naturally BoulderPanelistsMarcus Benedetti, Clover StornettaNeal Gottlieb, Three Twins Ice CreamBlair Kellison, Traditional MedicinalsMike Leventini, Petaluma Poultry ProcessorsCarolyn Stark, Sonoma County BEST
Purchasing from dairies throughout the North Coast, Clover makes certified-organic, hormone-free and natural milk and other dairy products sold under the Clover Stornetta brand. The company recently was certified by the Non-GMO Project.
Mr. Benedetti is set to speak at the North Coast Food & Agriculture Industry Conference, presented Thursday in Santa Rosa by the Business Journal and Bank of America/Merrill Lynch.What kinds of food businesses are best-suited to the North Bay?
[caption id="attachment_83305" align="alignleft" width="180"] Marcus Benedetti[/caption]
MARCUS BENEDETTI: It’s important to understand the context of the North Bay economy: value-added products. Any agricultural product that can be produced in the climate of the North Bay, from grapes, milk and olives to lamb and beef, have to compete in the marketplace. If [such products] do not imply a value-added component, they have to be marketed as such.
They need an appellation-like aspect. Bay Area consumers like it that they were grown and raised in the North Bay, versus in the Midwest or Central California, and that gives [North Bay products] a leg up.
Nothing epitomizes commodity products as much as milk. Taking economic circumstances such as the enhanced cost structure in the North Bay, instead of seeing that as a detriment we can see it as a positive that resonates with consumers. One has to adequately draw the distinction between commodity milk and value-added milk -- who produced it, where and how, and the welfare of the animals -- and wrapping all that up in a marketing position. It's more than just claiming that your producing it in Sonoma County.
As more and more companies continue to evolve to that end in Sonoma County, that draws efficiencies and a concentration that shows it's an "appellation" for exactly that -- value-added products.
Every consumer has a different view on whether added value in agricultural products comes from quality, the perception of its being produced in an area conceived as better, food-safety awareness for food coming from a specific region.
We have been seeing Sonoma County evolving into an area where aesthetics of the region are attractive. Many people who have not visited Sonoma County have a perception of it, whether its the vineyards. It has become this magical region or pocket in California. It is extraordinary for a county to have an incredibly eclectic variety of products exist in the premium way that they exist here.
The rest of the North Bay, to some extent, can share in this. Napa [County] certainly put wine on the map for the entire U.S., not just for California. No county in California is that diversified in terms of mictroclimates and soil variations and in terms of water availability, and the history and heritage of commodity agriculture transforming itself into value-added products.What helped and hindered the business in getting started and growing?
MR. BENEDETTI: First and foremost, we are tied to our production availability. Our whole business model is predicated on access to the best supply in the country. We are tied to where we're located, and that's Sonoma County.