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Bakken-themed merchandise is taking off

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DICKINSON, N.D. -- Oil isn’t the only item for which the “Bakken” name will move product.

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The popularity of Bakken-branded foods, souvenirs and clothing is showing how the oil boom isn’t only affecting the economy -- it’s a national story. Whether it’s on a T-shirt in a gas station, a candy bar or a brand of beer, the Bakken and North Dakota’s oil boom are a hot trend.Oilfield workers buy the products to send a piece of the boom to their families back home, or oil executives order in bulk for meetings or events -- a “Million Barrel Bar” debuted at the milestone celebration in Tioga last month. Even tourists passing through on Interstate 94 pick up items, having heard about the oil boom and wanting something to take back, as if the oil formation is a tourist destination. 

“People are coming through that hear about the oil boom and they’re excited about it and they want to be a part of it,” said LoAnn Wegh, a Dickinson marketing specialist.

The Dickinson Convention and Visitors Bureau gift shop has been selling Bakken-themed souvenirs for about four years, CVB Executive Director Terri Thiel said.

Thiel said she gives away the shop’s onesies -- which say “I smell something crude!” with a pumpjack image -- as baby shower gifts. She said items with the word “Bakken” on them are more popular than merchandise mentioning oil country or North Dakota oil in general.

“It represents probably a more unique place that those people are working at than just regular oil country somewhere,” she said.

For the many people who work in the Bakken but whose families remain in another state, whether because of the housing shortage or families not wanting to relocate, the products are a fun souvenir to send home.

“They have special people they want to include in their life in what’s going on with the oil boom,” Wegh said.

She said with the men-to-women ratio around the Oil Patch, products for men are a fool-proof business.

“If you can kind of cater to that demographic, you’re gonna be successful,” she said. “It’s almost impossible not to.”

Frack Jacks, Pipeline Pretzels

Over the past year, Bakken-themed products have really grown in popularity, said Kelly Wald, marketing specialist for Pride of Dakota.

“It’s just kind of neat because it is something that the state is so well-known for right now, and it’s a big part of our economy,” she said. “It’s just a nice tie-in.”

The branding is also a way for oil companies to help the local communities through business, said Linda Johnson, owner of Minot-based Home Sweet Home, which sells a lot of the themed products.

Neset Consulting’s Kathy Neset ordered 3,000 of the Million Barrel Bars -- barrel-shaped “milk chocolate filled with just the most delicious caramel” -- for the celebration marking production of 1 million barrels per day, Johnson said.

Johnson said she sells about 50 pounds of Bakken Sunrise coffee at trade shows.

Sometimes, the names are part of the fun: Frack Jacks, Frackle chips, Shale Crunch, Sweet Crude Chokecherry Syrup, Core Samples caramels, T’s Pipeline Pretzels, and so on.

“We think of the names ourselves, and we do a search and make sure that nobody’s using the name and then we trademark it,” Johnson said.

Wald said Pride of Dakota member companies have both created special Bakken lines and rebranded existing products.

Johnson said she and her broker business, which represents a lot of Pride of Dakota vendors, have had talks with bigger chain stores about stocking the Bakken-branded merchandise.

“We’ve got a lot of irons in the fire. We’re working with some companies and some big stores,” she said. “... We’re really promoting North Dakota and its people.”

Opinions vary about the oil boom and its impact, especially for North Dakota lifers and small towns. But Johnson said the products are a way for small businesses that have been around since before the boom took off  to capitalize, too.

“The thing is, the oil is here, it’s here to stay,” she said. “There’s always good and bad, and since it’s here, we need to all work together to make the best of it.”

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