( File photo by The Packer staff )

The power of local produce is not fading.

The Food Marketing Institute’s 2020 Power of Produce Report found that 54% of shoppers said they would like to see a greater assortment of locally grown produce at their primary store.

Shopper segments who have the strongest desire for more local produce, according to the report, are:

  • Specialty: 62%;
  • Rural: 61%;
  • Women: 60%; and 
  • Organic: 59%.

The three merchandising factors that are the most effective at driving impulse purchases are great promotions, displaying items in season and eye-catching displays, The Power of Produce report said.

While close to 60% of consumers mention those three merchandising factors as the main drivers, the report said that 24% of shoppers said local produce also drives impulse purchases.

Local produce has the most pull with millennial shoppers, according to the report, with 28% of that generation saying that local produce can drive impulse purchases.

“Local has gone mainstream with the customers,” said Craig Carlson, CEO of Chicago-based Carlson Produce Consulting. Retailers want to meet that consumer demand, but he said it is not easy to do.

“It’s harder to go and manage those particular supply chains because the (product) timing comes in and out for farmers,” Carlson said.

“It is something that retailers are putting resources against,” he said, noting New York-based chain Wegmans has established relationships and food safety programs with more than 1,000 local growers.

The Midwest grocery chain Meijer also works with hundreds of local growers, he said, and retailers of all sizes have tapped into the market.

Walmart also has invested in sourcing local produce in economically depressed areas of the country, such as Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama.

Methods

Merchandising local produce can include store signage that shares the pictures and names of the farmers supplying the produce, and can also include mentions of local produce in store advertising circulars. 

Local produce can also be highlighted within the produce department with special displays, Carlson said.

While many think of local produce as field-grown, Carlson said that greenhouse and indoor growing facilities near cities also can wear the halo of local produce.

Retailers can market greenhouse production 52 weeks a year as local product to consumers, and Carlson said that is appealing, along with the strong food safety record of greenhouse-grown produce.

Local food promotion is very important to Canadian retailers, said Mike Mauti, managing partner of Toronto-based consulting firm Execulytics.

Since most produce sold in Canada is imported, supporting locally grown is a powerful way growers can support the Canadian economy.

“Independent retailers probably do a bit better job with local produce (than larger retailers),” he said. 

“They’re a little closer to the community and they are able to accept produce direct from farmers much more easily know the big chains.”

COVID-19 effect

The COVID-19 coronavirus crisis may have increased the desire of consumers to support local growers in view of the hardships many growers have faced when restaurants shut down, Carlson said.

“Essentially (the appeal of) local produce is strengthened,” he said. 

“This whole trend is much more important (now),” he said.

The COVID-19 crisis may drive more consumers to local produce, Mauti said in mid-July, but it may be too soon to know.

“I think we are probably going to need to get through the season before we can honestly say that was the case,” he said.

 “But the belief is people are going to want things that are more familiar and simpler.”

Shoppers who visit a farmers market may be some of the same shoppers who buy local produce at a supermarket, Mauti said.

“I think there are people who really appreciate going to the farmers markets and then there are people who really appreciate their local supermarket carrying locally grown fruits and vegetables, and there is a considerable overlap with those groups of people,” he said.

While there may be some consumers who exclusively prefer one venue more than the other, the bigger part of all consumers enjoy both experiences, Mauti said. 

 

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