Towel sets with the Calcot name on them may one day be on selected store shelves, thanks to a $337,000 grant recently awarded to Calcot for a feasibility study on a value added agricultural product.

The aim of the feasibility study is to produce a cotton product that is value enhanced and that can be marketed with a recognizable identity, specifically the Calcot name. Calcot plans to manufacture a very limited quantity of premium towel sets made from Calcot cottons under a USDA Rural Development grant.

Currently, there are relatively very little California or Arizona cotton products in the U.S. retail marketplace. The majority of both states' cotton production is exported each year and manufactured into textiles, apparel and home furnishings that do not make their way back to the U.S.

“We're thrilled to have the opportunity to see if we can increase the value of our members' cotton,” said Gene Lundquist, vice president of public affairs for Calcot.

Several marketing surveys will be done to determine the marketability of potential logos and towels. The Calcot name and product will differentiate its towels from other towels in the market, the goal being to appeal to consumers who are looking for “fresh off the farm” products.

The venture is one of 20 grants approved in California by USDA Rural Development. A total of $4.17 million was awarded to recipients in the state as part of the 2002 Farm Bill, Value-Added Agriculture Product Market Development Grants program. The aim of the program is to provide an opportunity to refine agricultural commodities and products to increase their value in the marketplace. It is a way to help producers, producer groups, farmer and rancher cooperatives and majority-owned producer-based business ventures develop business plans for viable marketing opportunities and develop strategies to create marketing opportunities in emerging markets.

Two containers of Calcot cottons will be used to manufacture the towels and a search is under way for a manufacturer to handle the project. Lundquist said they hope to produce the towels in the United States but marketplace economics may require them to be manufactured off-shore.

Once the towels are produced, they will be sold in select outlets such as department stores, specialty shops, on the Internet, through catalogs and other cooperatives. Lundquist said he's interested in seeing if there is consumer demand for towels specifically designated as Calcot's brand. The advertising and promotion will focus on the “naturalness” of cotton towels and the consumer interest in natural products.

The towels will be produced from some of the finest cotton available in California and Arizona and will be clearly identified for their farm-direct quality. The promotional program will incorporate conveying this identity through the Calcot name logo, story board, hang tags/label, packaging design, video, Web site, marketing and advertising materials. The program should expand Calcot's customer base.

Lundquist said that if the venture proves to be successful Calcot may apply for other grants to produce the towels on a regular basis.

Calcot representing the interests of 1,500 California and Arizona cotton growers.