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    Vermont Plays Matchmaker for Local Growers, Retail Food Buyers

    The event uses a "speed-dating" format to create business opportunities for area farmers and representatives of supermarket operators, restaurants, food co-ops, and colleges.

    Vermont farmers in search of mutually beneficial professional partnerships will get their chance to do some networking today at a "Matchmaker" event consisting of a series of brief meetings with food buyers from supermarket operators, restaurants, food co-ops, and colleges.

    The free daylong event, organized by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture in collaboration with the Vermont Fresh Network, Vermont Grocers Association, and Vermont Hospitality Council, will take place at the Three Stallion Inn in Randolph, Vt. The Montpelier-based agency describes it as "[a] chance for Vermont food producers to meet one-on-one with buyers interested in sourcing local foods."

    Among the food retailers and co-ops that registered to attend the event were Hannaford, Shaw's, Price Chopper, Walmart, Mac's Markets, Mehuron's Supermarket, Hunger Mountain Cooperative, and Brattleboro Coop.

    Helen Labun Jordan, the agency's agricultural development coordinator, explained the impetus behind the event to Progressive Grocer: "The Vermont Agency of Agriculture wanted an efficient way for larger-scale buyers to learn about their local food options and for farmers and food producers to pitch their product to new potential customers. The Matchmaker uses a speed-dating format where sellers sign up for 10-minute meetings with the buyers they're interested in selling to. This allows them to get in a lot of meetings in one day, but also gives time for more than a quick pitch -- they can begin to talk in more depth about how to make a buying relationship work."

    The goal of the event is simple, according to Jordan: "To make new contracts! It's part of the Agency of Agriculture's larger goal to make sure all Vermonters can put local food on their dinner plates."

    Jordan noted that the event was based on a model used by the state's Department of Economic Development and the Northeast Regional Department of Defense to introduce small businesses and government contractors to each other, but that today's gathering is the first time the format has been applied to food.

    She was unaware of any similar events in other parts of the country, although Supermarket Guru and Progressive Grocer columnist Phil Lempert runs an online Farmer-Retailer matchmaker service through his Food, Nutrition & Science Newsletter.

    The plan is to make the Vermont Matchmaker event an annual one that will be even "bigger and better" than its inaugural incarnation, building on the "great response" received this year, noted Jordan. Over 40 buyers and more than 70 sellers signed up for today's event.

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