Nonprofit group boosts profile of N.H. products

By Kathy McCormack
Associated Press / June 26, 2011

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EPPING, N.H. — A year ago, Diane Romagnoli was getting her artisanal flatbread business going. Now she’s getting calls from retailers looking to sell her crackers.

She attributes the growth in interest to her membership in New Hampshire Made, a nonprofit organization that creates an awareness and demand for locally made products.

“It’s like I have my own full-staff marketing department,’’ said Romagnoli of Bedford, who makes Craquelins, described as hearty, rustic flatbread crisps. The organization answered her questions as she was getting started, posted a description of her business on its website and added a link to hers.

“We’ve been able to pick up some retail accounts as a result of that,’’ she said.

Romagnoli is one of about 850 members who receive weekly newsletters about fairs, farmers markets, and other events where she can advertise. The businesses, listed in a published guide, can offer their products for sale through the group’s online site or in its two retail stores along Interstate 95 in Hampton.

Membership also gives Romagnoli a chance to network with other businesses specializing in New Hampshire products. Whenever Romagnoli sees the New Hampshire Made logo on products, “I know I have a buddy who will lend me a hand. . . . You feel that you’re not out there by yourself,’’ she said.

The recognition that something has been made or grown locally — and should be promoted — has increased in the state throughout the years, said Trish Ballantyne, the organization’s new executive director.

Twenty-five years ago, long before New Hampshire Made existed, residents were making great products, but not everyone knew about them, she said. Gift shops, for example, were stocking more products that were made out of state. Now it’s common to find New Hampshire-made goods in shops, hotels, inns, and restaurants.

New Hampshire was inspired by marketing efforts in Vermont and Maine to create its own push to promote local products, said Ballantyne, whose new office is in a model log-cabin-style home in Epping. “It was evident that they learned earlier than us that having that common image and identity was important to the state and its businesses.’’

The support from New Hampshire Made has been a plus for Jon Gibson of Gibson Pewter, whose workshop is in Hillsborough Center. Gibson also is a member of the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen, which has partnered with the organization for an annual “New Hampshire Open Doors’’ weekend in November. Artisans across the state have an open house to showcase what they do.

“It’s just one more way of exposing us to people that are out in the backwoods,’’ he said.

Even though Gibson Pewter has been around for more than 40 years, Gibson said he’ll hear from customers who found it through the New Hampshire Made website or saw it mentioned in the annual guide.

New Hampshire Made was originally called New Hampshire Stories when it started in 1997, to emphasize that there is a story behind each person offering a product or service.

To qualify for membership in the nonprofit group, businesses must meet certain guidelines and pay a $75 annual membership fee. Business owners are asked whether they own the rights to the product they’re selling and whether they use New Hampshire materials and labor whenever possible.