Kennedy: Bass fishing’s “Cheese Guy”

Jimmy Kennedy’s choice of boat and truck is well known around the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Open Series. By personal choice, he fishes from a Skeeter and drives a Toyota Tundra. What’s not so familiar is the brand graphics wrapped around the boat and truck.

The wrap represents Kennedy’s sponsor Cabot Creamery, a 1,200-farm family dairy cooperative with members spread across New England and upstate New York. The corporate relationship has blossomed over the past two years for Kennedy, a Vermont transplant originally from Mississippi.

“I get asked a lot why I’m sponsored by a dairy co-op, and that’s really a good thing,” he said. “It opens up the chance for me to talk about the brand to folks who’d never associate cheese and dairy products with bass fishing or the outdoor lifestyle.”

The non-endemic sponsorship comes with equally as non-traditional obligations. You won’t find Kennedy doing casting demonstrations at a Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World when an Open tournament comes to town. You will find him there with his boat and truck doing cooking demonstrations using Cabot Seriously Sharp Cheddar and other cheeses that have won every major taste test award.

Kennedy performs onsite sponsorship activation duties depending on Cabot’s marketing plan for a given tournament destination. Once before an Open on Lake Seminole, he did a tour of Winn-Dixie stores in the three-states surrounding the fishery. With boat and truck parked outside storefronts, Kennedy attracted shoppers with cheese samples and grilled recipes. Bass fishing, cooking, and shopping mixed for a presence that captured market share and provided a unique branding opportunity.

“It’s a good fit, really because more men are becoming interested in cooking,” said Kennedy. “As a spokesperson for Cabot, I get to demonstrate this all over the country on morning and midday TV shows to what’s often a female dominated audience.”

On the flip side, Kennedy attracts curious men at sports shows where he disproves the ‘guys can’t cook’ myth with some catchy recipes of his own.

“One of the fun perks of this sponsorship is I get to create recipes,” said Kennedy, a self-taught chef. “We’ve come up with some pretty crazy recipes to bring the brand and cooking to men.”

One of the most popular items on the outdoor and boat show circuit is the Cheddar S’more, an adaption of the campfire treat that replaces marshmallows with cheese.

The atypical sponsorship between a Vermont-based company and a bass angler with Southern roots is as unique as the partnership. Kennedy was raised in Mississippi, where as a teenager he joined a club affiliated with the B.A.S.S. Federation Nation while attending the University of Mississippi.

His love for bass fishing took him to Washington, where he landed an appointment with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. While there he met people interested in promoting Southern catfish to Northern restaurants when the fish ignited a gourmet food craze.

The move north continued when Kennedy partnered to open two trendy restaurants in New York City. In 1991 he settled in Vermont and opened the River Run in the village of Plainfield. Southern comfort food came to New England, and the restaurant won high acclaim with discriminating restaurant critics from Boston to New York.

A national best-selling cookbook, distinguished culinary awards, appearances on Food Network and other career successes never distracted Kennedy from his affinity for competitive bass fishing. He sold the restaurant two years ago and now devotes his time to mentoring young anglers and fishing the tour. And, of course, acting as a spokesperson for Cabot.

“About the time I considered selling the restaurant I went to them,” Kennedy recounted. “I figured if I wanted to step up my tournament fishing career that a non-endemic food sponsor would be a wise choice considering my background.” 

Kennedy relishes his reputation as the “cheese guy” on the Open tour. It’s a positive sign that brands him with an important sponsor. Between cooking demonstrations and store appearances he manages to get practice time prior to the tournaments. And before the week ends, hopefully some stage time to demonstrate how eating cheese equates to tournament fishing success.