Everything is not rainbows and unicorns when it comes to feelings about local food demand.

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I asked the LinkedIn Fresh Produce Industry Discussion Group this question:

What do you think is the number one reason behind the consumer appeal of local produce? Will consumer preference for local increase or decrease over the next five years? How should the supply chain respond?

While many see the enduring appeal of local food, others say it is not that simple.

Here are a few of the diverse comments on the question:

DL: Freshness and supporting local growers is important Pick your own fruits and veggies is a family experience to support healthier eating experience

JP: Part of the knee-jerk appeal is the consumer connection with a supposed environmental benefit, in this case,  the discredited food miles campaigns. If we get back to the meaning behind the meaning, the benefits these consumers attribute to local are actually a cry for seasonal. Most things are always in season but some seasons are better than others. Eating an 11-month old apple is better than eating a 60-day old grape or a 30-day old blueberry. But sometimes an 11-month old apple from out of state, like I’m enjoying right now, is better than the 7-day old peach from the next county my grocer ruined by holding it at 42 degrees. Flavor trumps geography

VK; Just wait until the nonsense “vertical” farms implode

BB: Supporting “Locally Grown” is on the upswing. My wife and I do it ourselves and I haul produce. However, consumers have become used to having fruits and vegetables available year ‘round at their local grocery store and I wonder how many shoppers stop to ask where that plum they bought in December came from?

DV: It is good to support local. The path from farm to plate is also much shorter with a much smaller risk of contamination than the major retailers’ long supply chains.

JJ: In my opinion the preponderance of “local” produce is directly related to the environment and the myriad problems climate change presents. Educated consumers or “correct consumers” see their food choices from all angles including how it was grown, how far away it was grown and who grew it. Shipping a salad from a drought-plagued area 3000 miles away may not bother most customers now but going forward more and more consumers will use their wallets to demand a less environmentally damaging method of procuring things like salad greens that can be grown year round and shipped 90% fewer miles.

Great input and diverse thinking from the group as always. 

Another item that caught my eye this morning:

On the importance of incentivizing healthy eating. From Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass. in the Congressional Record:

One shining example of a collaboration formed to tackle this terrible problem is Vitality. John Hancock, a leading life insurance company based in Boston, has partnered with the Friedman School at Tufts University on an innovative life insurance product that helps to encourage healthier behaviors.

John Hancock clients complete an online health review and engage in activities like preventative care, physical activity, smoking cessation, education, and improved nutrition to earn points that translate into discounts on insurance and other products. What is particularly impressive about the program is the discount it provides to participants who want to increase their purchases of fruits and vegetables. Those who sign up receive a 25 percent discount on healthy food at more than 14,000 grocery stores across the country.

 The Vitality program is one example of the positive impact incentives can have on our collective public health when they motivate and reward individuals to take up healthy behaviors. We should learn from this innovative model and look at ways to expand upon its reach to greater segments of the population.

In 2011, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to pilot a first in the Nation initiative to provide incentives for the purchase of healthy foods. The pilot enabled participants to increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables by 26 percent and led to the creation of USDA’s Food Insecurity and Nutrition Incentive, known as FINI.

 FINI has provided States and localities across the country with Federal resources to expand incentive programs for SNAP beneficiaries. Massachusetts currently uses Federal FINI dollars in conjunction with private donations and State resources to increase the purchase of fruits and vegetables.

 It is working. In our State, FINI has helped more than 63,000 SNAP recipients increase their fruit and vegetable intake in 1 year alone. Estimates suggest this increase can mean savings of more than $1.1 million in public health costs. So imagine the impact these sorts of programs and incentives could have if they were replicated and expanded on a larger scale.

New research from Tufts’ Friedman School shows that incorporating technology-based incentives for healthier eating into other Federal programs like Medicare and Medicaid would be highly cost-effective, saving millions of lives and billions of dollars in healthcare costs.

We should also look at how we can reach beyond Federal health and nutrition programs to encourage private worksite wellness programs.


TK: McGovern deserves more love as a strong advocate for industry interests. I’d like to hear more from him at fresh produce events.