Locally grown produce has become common in retail and restaurants. Farmers are touted by name and region. It’s part of a strategy to respond to consumers who want to know more about their food – where it comes from and who is growing it.
That interest is here to stay.
The National Restaurant Association named “locally grown produce” as the No. 2 trend in its 2014 Culinary Forecast, after locally sourced meats and seafood. Local sourcing has been among the top trends for the last five years and is expected to be among the hottest menu trends 10 years from now.
What does this mean for grower-shippers? While it may be tempting to separate the action items for “big” versus “small” farmers, digging into the factors underlying this trend reveals an opportunity to strengthen the link between farm and fork for all suppliers.
As we know, local has many definitions.
The Hartman Group finds that 57% of survey respondents completely agree that “buy local” means buying food products grown “close to home and sold within their community,” while 47% completely agree it means “buying food products grown within 100 miles.”
Fewer individuals define local as products grown in their state or region. Further, the concept of local may be about image. According to the Hartman Group, “fresh agricultural products and romanticized notions of family farms are a central part of what make up ‘buying local’ in the minds of consumers.”
Thus, sharing more about the farmer may be as important as sharing his GPS coordinates.
Proponents of the “buy local” movement equate local with “fresh,” “sustainable” and “trusted.” Bolstered by perceptions that “buying local” helps strengthen communities, these benefits provide value.
In terms of “freshness,” it’s hard to deny there is a texture and crispness to produce immediately post-harvest that is difficult to maintain after vacuum-cooling and shipping.
Studies also show that consumers equate local with sustainable in terms of reduced food miles, fair labor/social practices, and enhanced animal welfare. These perceptions are closely tied to trust and transparency.
In retail or foodservice, there may be an intermediary between the farmer and the consumer, but the logic still holds true.
“My” local restaurateur or “my” local grocer knows where the food comes from, and I trust him to deliver a product that is good for the environment, good for me and good for the community.