“Quality issues can hurt efforts, and there’s not always has much to choose from,” Gaia said.
He also said smaller growing operations can have trouble with packaging and grading, and they don’t always provide the standardized crates that customers want so it can be a problem to supply to large wholesale outlets.
Another main challenge with locally grown promotions is that not everyone agrees on what counts as local.
“Some consider locally grown a 400-mile radius, where others see it a lot tighter than that. I mean, 400 miles will almost get me to Florida,” said Kenny Pendergrass, vice president of purchasing at Dixie Produce Inc., Chattanooga, Tenn.
Pendergrass tends to focus his locally grown definition to between 50 and 75 miles, but he agrees that it’s hard to define.
“We have a few clients who want all Tennessee products, but we are right on the border so it’s kind of all right here together in this growing region with Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama. Those are all less than 50 miles,” he said.
Pendergrass did say that efforts to promote locally grown have grown across the industry, with demands for local produce about equal in the retail and foodservice sectors.
“Even chain-managed accounts are wanting locally grown, so I think it’s pretty equal,” he said.