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Taste NY at the Capital Region Welcome Center

Members support agriculture and agritourism through Taste NY program

By KATE MOSTACCIO

PEF members Tim Pezzolesi, Jessica Henesy and Teia DeCarlo work every day to highlight New York State agriculture, from eating and drinking local to promoting New York State products at Welcome Centers, Thruway rest stops and other retails locations via the Taste NY program.

“Taste NY is the official eat local, drink local program for New York State,” said Pezzolesi, the marketing and promotion team leader for the program since 2017and a PEF member since 2006. “There is a lot of interest and a lot of value in local products.”

Pezzolesi said the primary goal of the program, created in 2013 by Governor Andrew Cuomo and administered by the Department of Agriculture and Markets, is to promote New York’s farms and food and beverage industries and to drive agritourism throughout the state.

“Taste NY focuses on creating opportunities for producers to showcase their goods at retail locations and events throughout the state,” he said. “It allows farmers to reach more customers and to increase their visibility. Many times, it has helped them to expand the number of people they employ or the processing capacity of their business.”

Henesy, who joined Ag and Markets in the fall of 2019 and PEF in early 2020, is the Taste NY market operations manager. She says that the state’s unique partnerships with not-for-profit organizations, such as Cornell Cooperative Extension, help to connect New York  farms and food and beverage producers with resources and get a leg up in the market.

Taste NY at the North Country Welcome Center

“These partnerships provide access to labeling, licensing, different ways for producers to work with product to get to a larger market,” Henesy said. “We have a lot of wonderful partners on a retail level that help producers and help us teach the general public about what it means to purchase from Taste NY.”

For small businesses throughout New York, the program offers them vital business development opportunities.

“New York ranks very highly in agriculture rankings for commodities,” Pezzolesi said. “There are currently about 33,000 family farms that produce food and beverage on over 7 million acres of the state. That has a lot of value, not only to the agricultural industry and the economy, but also because our farmers manage so much land, which has a huge positive impact on sustainability, the environment and local communities.”

Taste NY gets New York-made products in front of consumers in a variety of ways. Taste NY products can be found at more than 70 locations, including standalone markets, Thruway travel plazas, Welcome Centers, state parks, airports, train stations, and concessions at sports and entertainment venues.

Each location offers a variety of options.

“Taste NY Markets have the widest diversity of product,” Pezzolesi said. “From grab-and-go snacks, to frozen meats, eggs and milk, seasonal produce and more, these standalone stores exclusively offer local New York products. There are also smaller gift stores, kiosks, and vending machines at different locations. The product offerings vary depending on the location, the amount of traffic, and consumer demand.”

Taste NY at the Finger Lakes Welcome Center

Each Welcome Center, for example, emphasizes and highlights products from its own region, Pezzolesi said.  There are 11 Welcome Centers located in New York’s 10 regions.

“They were designed to focus on each region’s specialties,” he said. “The types of products vary from region to region. It’s really a fun and interesting way for people to experience and explore different products unique to New York’s diverse regions.”

In 2020, Taste NY launched an online storefront, Shop Taste NY, said DeCarlo, a PEF member for a year and a half, and the brand manager for Taste NY.

Shop Taste NY is our online platform that the Hudson Valley | Catskills Welcome Center and Cornell Cooperative Extension of Sullivan County operate,” she said. “It’s another way for people to access fresh, local New York products. The site can be navigated by region, and we help them rotate products regularly to make sure the site has a good representation of all the commodity groups in New York. The website features a wide variety of products like jams and jellies, candies, maple products and gift products.”

In addition to events, retail locations and the online store, Taste NY targets travelers in other ways.

“As people travel across New York, they will see highway signs featuring local businesses along with the Taste NY logo,” Henesy said. “That’s a great way for travelers to make the connection that a business is a New York State producer, so they can choose to shop local and support the New York State economy.”

Their efforts have certainly paid off – Taste NY has grown each year. In 2019, total sales were $21.6 million, and the program benefited 1,800 food and beverage companies across the state.

Taste NY has adapted and innovated during the COVID-19 crisis, hosting virtual events, piloting curbside pickup options at different locations, and working with local businesses to offer assistance during shutdowns and restrictions.

“The Adirondack Welcome Center hosted a virtual B2B (Business to Business) event,” DeCarlo said. “In previous years, they did them in person and they were very successful in helping producers build relationships and facilitate relationships with new buyers. The 2020 virtual event was two hours long and each participant had two minutes to talk about their offerings and story.”

Fifty-nine vendors participated in the event and more than 40 of them formulated new relationships or got their products into new markets, Henesy said.

Henesy said some market locations connected with local businesses that had to shut down in 2020 and began picking up their products and offering them in the market. She said Oscar’s Smokehouse, having had success with Taste NY vending machines at the Adirondacks Welcome Center, was inspired to put a vending machine outside its facility to supplement sales during the pandemic.

“We’ve worked with a lot of businesses and helped them make decisions,” Henesy said. “There has been a lot of work that has been ongoing between market operators and vendors to help them make adjustments for their business during the pandemic.”

Henesy said some markets developed call-ahead and curbside pickup options.

“We continue to support local small businesses during this crisis period,” she said. “We’re all proud of and passionate about this program and always happy to talk to anyone with questions or who wants to get involved.”

“It’s a really exciting program and it’s exciting when we hear success stories,” Pezzolesi said. “It’s very gratifying to be able to support New Yorkers in that way. We look forward to finding new ways to build the program and connect farmers throughout New York to the state’s consumers.”

Learn more about Taste NY online.