By MICHELE F. MIHALJEVICH
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Popcorn will be in the spotlight during the 2013 Indiana State Fair as a part of its annual “year of” promotion.
For the past six fairs, officials have recognized a commodity grown or raised in the state as a part of the promotion. In previous years, corn, trees, tomatoes, pigs, soybeans and dairy cows have been featured.
“It’s a chance for us to educate,” said Andy Klotz, public relations director for the Indiana State Fair Commission. “People are going to learn that Indiana is at the center of an immensely popular worldwide snack food.”
Indiana ranks second behind Nebraska in popcorn, according to the USDA. Nebraska is responsible for more than one-fourth of the nation’s popcorn production, with the Hoosier State producing only slightly less.
“We do this because it’s a part of our mission and it’s been extremely successful in highlighting each of these commodities,” Klotz noted. “It also gives us programming that allows us to have something there that people look forward to.”
During 2012’s year of dairy cows, a record number of milkshakes were sold at the dairy barn, Klotz said. Soybean officials used their year in 2011 to launch Plenish soybean oil, and Red Gold saw sales increase in July and August during the year of the tomato in 2009.
For the year of popcorn, Weaver Popcorn Co., based in Indiana, will be the presenting sponsor, Klotz said. Weaver produces the Pop Weaver brand and also makes Trail’s End exclusively for the Boy Scouts.
“We’d like to bring some attention to Indiana’s popcorn production. I hope it raises some pride among Hoosiers,” said Mike Weaver, CEO of Weaver Popcorn. “We’d like to bring some good publicity to popcorn, present facts about popcorn and increase awareness of popcorn.”
The company also wants to support the state and the fair, one of Indiana’s major activities, Weaver noted. “The majority of our consumers enjoy going to the state fair,” he said. “This will help draw attention to popcorn and strengthen our relationship with our stakeholders – growers, associates and consumers.”
Partners such as Weaver provide financial compensation to the fair and in return, have tailor-made agreements with the fair, Klotz said. Fair officials will work with the partners to meet their marketing goals, he added. Weaver declined to say how much his company would pay in compensation.
As part of the promotion, fair officials decorate the gazebo, located in the center of the fairgrounds, to promote the “year of” commodity, Klotz explained.
“Agriculture will always be at the heart of our state fair,” he said. “One of the reasons is, we have the best 4-H program in the country. Their involvement is second to none.”
The idea of popcorn as the featured commodity has come up in the past but for various reasons, another product was chosen, Klotz said. Fair officials discuss potential choices with the Indiana State Department of Agriculture to help determine which products should be promoted.
“There’s no scientific formula to it,” he said. “Popcorn, which had a really difficult (growing) season this year, reminds me of the year of pigs (in 2010). At that time, pork was really hurting. It was kind of a moral uplifting to all the hardworking hog producers, but it helped them in the pocketbook too.”
It is Indiana’s status in popcorn production that the fair’s executive director hopes people will remember after next year’s fair.
“People have long known Indiana for being a tremendous corn-producing state, but very few folks know about our popcorn production,” Cindy Hoye said in a statement. “This is the year we make sure all Hoosiers realize that their main movie-watching snack was likely grown and manufactured right here in Indiana.”
Next year’s fair will also feature the opening of an interactive farming experience designed to give visitors a chance to learn about production agriculture in the state, Klotz said. The exhibit will be created in conjunction with the Indiana Soybean Alliance. More information will be available next spring.
The 2013 fair will be Aug. 2-18. The 2012 fair had an attendance of 854,000, down 2 percent from 2011, he said.