“That trend ties into the heartstrings of consumer appeal for local produce, as well as food miles,” he said.
The effort attempts to bring consumer demand to growers, so they can get committed pricing and volume before putting product in ground, said Jim Lemke, senior vice president of sourcing for C.H. Robinson.
“By bringing customers to the forefront, it helps fill the void for some smaller and medium-sized producers that don’t have customer engagement already in place,” Lemke said.
Because Duda Farm Fresh Foods, Oviedo, Fla., has growing operations in 13 states, it also has been able to take advantage of the local produce phenomenon.
Customers including Wal-Mart and Publix’s GreenWise use Duda as an example in retail point-of-purchase displays that explain the source of the produce, said Nichole Towell, marketing development manager.
These days, grower-shippers not only have to sell retailers on the quality of their produce, but also in the way it was grown, harvested, packed and delivered.
Duda has marketed its sustainability efforts to retailers by letting customers know what happens in each portion of the operation, which is laid out on its Web site, Towell said.
When communicating about its sustainability program to retailers, greenhouse grower Village Farms International, Eatontown, N.J., uses a set of talking points, said Helen Aquino, marketing manager.
The company touts its policies on water conservation and land preservation, which play a role in what the company calls “The Barefoot Plan.”
The plan, which is laid out on its Web site, has five aspects, each of which has an icon that is being integrated into packaging, Aquino said.
The company has learned to simplify the sustainability messaging on its packaging, she said.
“It’s a Catch-22. Consumers want to think their produce is grown on 40 acres with a mule by mom and pop. We have found that being technical turns consumers off, so now we’re trying to be as simple as possible,” she said.
At its own facilities, Wal-Mart started a solar pilot program in May 2007. Since then it has added solar at several distribution centers and has a goal of adding solar installations at up to 20 facilities through 2010.