FROM jamologists to providores, craft brewers to agri-tourism businesses, they came from far and wide across the region and beyond to collaborate on establishing a trust token to validate the authenticity of food and fibre produce from Gippsland.
Picking up on conversation that began in 2019, the development of a ‘mark’ to validate Gippsland’s produce took a big step forward in a positive direction when a diverse group with representation from industry, community, government at all levels, educators and research gathered at Narkoojee Winery for a workshop and discussion forum in late January.
The workshop, facilitated by Food & Fibre Gippsland’s Acting CEO, Dr Nicola Watts, addressed a number of topics, issues and challenges, with widespread acknowledgment that an initiative of this scale is not as simple as it might first seem or look to be, but the benefits of collaboratively getting it right are well worth the effort.
“The trust token or trust ‘mark’ is something that could be placed on a product and its packaging and incorporated into its marketing to validate that it is genuine and authentically from the region, so this initiative is all about growing stronger together, and it’s a real opportunity to create and tell the story of Gippsland in an innovative way,” said Dr Watts.
“The power of all the region’s individual brands represents what Gippsland produce is all about, and then to be able to reinforce and validate that those individual brands are genuinely made, grown, manufactured or created in Gippsland, gives a deeper level of trust, and potentially engages consumers at a new level with not only the product that they are purchasing, but the region as a whole,” she said.
The group addressed a series of questions including business models, brand structure, brand application, eligibility, auditing and governance, as well as mapping out what the strengths, weaknesses, benefits and opportunities are for establishing this as a sustainable and trusted authenticator to add value and integrity to the region’s produce.
The long-term role that technology will need to play in policing the use of the token and validating each and every user was keenly debated, and there was a groundswell of enthusiasm for the opportunities for cross pollination across the tourism and investment sector.
One small business owner highlighted that the introduction of a trust mark or token could be a significant opportunity for big business to indirectly help the smaller operators.
“An initiative like this might be an ideal opportunity for the region’s big businesses to leverage their larger marketing budgets and potentially wider geographic spreads to be the first adopters of the trust mark and therefore grow exposure quicker – effectively giving a ‘leg up’ for the smaller businesses to benefit from the increased awareness,” they suggested.
The structure and approach of discussion forums such as this are in harmony with Food & Fibre Gippsland’s Smart Specialisation projects, where the grass roots approach engages with community, industry, all levels of government and research to encourage open conversation, connectivity, and collaboration and ultimately drive innovative local solutions that also consider the global macro trends at play.
At the conclusion of this half day workshop, there was widespread enthusiasm for the next steps, and a much deeper appreciation of the complexities that have to be worked through as a group to drive an “owned” outcome and clear path forward.
Dr Watts believes there is some significant work still to be done, but is delighted with the focus of the group onto what is possible, and how to get there, rather than jumping straight into design mode and arguing what colour a logo should (or shouldn’t!) be.
“I think there is a real opportunity to work collaboratively on creating an integrity rich model that could be developed for Gippsland to then be shared with other regions around the country and even the world,” she concluded.
The workshop group, together with Food & Fibre Gippsland’s members, have been provided a summary of the day’s discussion, with the next steps to be an interactive forum to map out the possible process and ownership options, as well as drill down in the setup options and costs, logistics, criteria, eligibility and management requirements.
The date and location of the next forum will be shared shortly on Food & Fibre Gippsland’s website (foodandfibregippsland.com.au) and social media channels.
New participants are always welcome to join the conversation.
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