Courtesy Jersey Fresh Gillian Armstrong, Jersey Fresh intern, educates consumers about the Gardens State's fresh produce bounty in July 2012 at the Village Shop-Rite in Washington, N.J. Though definitions and programs vary, the demand for locally grown produce is still a big trend.
“Demand for locally grown produce is still significant in Maryland. All those conditions that have existed for the last several years are still the case,” said Mark Powell, chief of marketing and agribusiness development for the Maryland Department of Agriculture.
Powell says that the department has several promotions to support this demand already underway for this year.
New Jersey’s state program also is seeing good results, according to Bill Walker, agriculture marketing specialist.
Walker says he’s seen more companies take advantage of the state’s efforts this year.
“We want them to use our logo and put it on an order form or their point-of-sale materials. We really do see not only more consumers interested in it but also middlemen in the industry who want to use Jersey Fresh a little more as a sales technique,” Walker said.
Foodservice also is getting involved in the program.
“Even restaurants are using our logo and the names of farmers,” Walker said.
Others agree the trend is growing.
In recent research by the Produce Marketing Association, locally grown produce was shown to be trending higher than organics, according to Kathy Means, vice president of public affairs for the Produce Marketing Association.
One erroneous idea that tends to follow the locally grown movement is that it’s safer than other produce options.
“There’s an idea that we don’t need food safety when produce is local, but the truth is that everyone has to have a good food safety program,” Means said.
Education efforts, such as the Partnership for Food Safety Education are key to dispelling this myth. In addition, marketers need to be careful about the information they present to the public.
Food needs to be handled properly by all parties, including growers and consumers, Means said.
Another myth is that local produce is somehow healthier.
“It’s not necessarily true that local produce is more nutritious, but there are real benefits,” Means said.
One such benefit is that consumers like to understand where their food came from and how it was grown.
“It’s a great link to understand agriculture and to help out local farmers,” Means said.
It’s also about supporting the local economy.
“Today’s consumer likes to support growers in the community they live in. They like to keep their dollars close to home,” said Brian Knott, president of Grow Farms, Louisville, Ky.
“By buying local in Maryland, consumers are supporting the health of the Chesapeake Bay, and the more agriculture thrives, the more land stays in production, which is the preferred use,” Powell said.
This has been especially important post-recession.
“Consumers want the dollars they spend to go back into the local community. It makes you feel you are doing your part to support the community,” said Kate Siskel, marketing and media relations manager for BrightFarms, New York.
Marketers also agree that the perception of a fresher product is one of the main pushes behind the locally grown movement.
“The perception is that if it doesn’t travel far, it’s fresher,” Powell said.
Sometimes consumers just want to know where their food came from.
“Consumers increasingly want to know about what they’re eating beyond the food’s name,” said Mary Ostlund, marketing director at Homestead, Fla.-based Brooks Tropicals Inc.
In addition, consumers like having a personal connection to their food.
“They want to connect with the farmers themselves. They can go online to see the story of the farmer growing watermelon 20 or 50 miles away and identify with who they are,” Powell said.