Local food is only relevant if it is fresh

07/03/2013 01:34:00 PM
Tom Karst

Tom KarstIs local food really all about only fresh produce? Buyers and consumers seem to care more about local fresh produce than “local” iterations of other types of food, such as processed fruits and vegetables, meat and dairy.

The proof of that theory appears in news coverage from Australia, where the Weekly Times Now reported a rift between growers and Australia’s supermarkets over the issue of local food.

The story noted that Australia’s major supermarkets would not commit to using local food in all their “home-brand” or private label food lines.

Farmers at the Victorian Farmers Federation conference voted to lobby “supermarkets to commit to using Australian produce in all their house-branded tinned, plastic and snack pack lines,” according to the report.

Hold on a minute; supermarkets are hesitant to profess their love for all things local?

Supermarkets wouldn’t give in on local food, even after arm-twisting by grower?

Shocking!

But the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. The consumer, in my view, cares about local food only to the extent it exudes “fresh.” If the crate of produce still has dirt from the local farm, that’s what the consumer is looking for.

In that sense, even the appeal of fresh and local has limits; can a retailer garner the same goodwill as a local grower if the store buys a local farm and starts to grow their own veggies? I don’t think so.

I think local food demand is more about consumer goodwill toward small growers of fresh produce in the community.

That goodwill likely will fade as either the grower or the food changes form.

Don’t ask the consumer to care about local canned peas when he already is paying over the market for fresh local peas.

A study about local food demand in Nashville indicated that 82% of restaurants surveyed purchased local fresh fruits and vegetables, while less than 20% purchased locally grown minimally processed fruits and vegetables.

Perhaps more important than "local," in the long term, is to have a story that connects the product to a flesh-and-blood grower.

 

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Because there are varying definitions of local and only one USDA-approved definition of organic, I think the pull of organic demand will hold sway over the long term. I put the question to The Packer Market this way:

Which has more staying power: local or organic demand?

Which of the hot consumer trends of “local” and “organic” has more staying power? If consumers are inclined toward both, which do they value more than the other?

I have a sense that organic may hold sway more than local in five years, but it is nothing more than speculation.

Join the nearly 500 others who are members of The Packer Market and chime in.

Also, I think readers will be fascinated and interested to read the discussion thread at the LinkedIn Fresh Produce Industry Discussion Group.

 Would we be better off with an organic diet?

Fair warning: You will find yourself in a decided minority if you answer no.



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