( Photo by The Packer staff )

Do U.S. buyers and consumers need to show more love and loyalty to U.S. produce?

I was visiting with a Texas grower-shipper the other day. While mentioning his concern about the labor supply, he also brought up the need for retail and consumer support for domestic produce over imports when both are available.

He said domestic growers need the loyal support from retailers, foodservice operators and wholesalers to choose domestic and stay with domestic as long as the supply is there.

The marketer mentioned that it was his impression that Canada’s retailers are much more loyal to Canadian produce than retailers in the U.S. are faithful to American growers.

“I would love the U.S. to model Canada.” 

He told the story of a New Jersey supplier making calls to Canadian customers and offering substantially cheaper prices than those buyers could get from their own growers. But no dice. 

“They (Canadian retailers) say, ‘Well, you know, we’re paying more for local, but we couldn’t get away with (buying U.S. produce),” he said. “That is something that needs to happen here in the U.S.,” the shipper told me.

I asked a Canadian produce veteran about that sentiment.

“My sense is in the U.S. (buying domestic) is a trend, whereas in Canada it is a way of life,” said Mike Mauti, retail consultant and managing partner of Toronto-based Execulytics Consulting. He cited examples of lower-priced imports taking a backseat to relatively more expensive local produce, notably strawberries and asparagus.

Mauti said there may be a number of reason for Canada’s loyalty toward local. Some could be:

Historical: Mauti said there was a time when local was the only source and for some commodities that was not that long ago. “There are still old timers around that can remember those days,” he said.

Price: Before significant improvements in refrigeration and logistics, local was less expensive. “In many categories (lettuce, cooking vegetables, apples, etc.) this is still the case,” Mauti said.

Economic: “For a Canadian to choose American grown (or any other locale) over local means taking the money out of the country and supporting a different country’s economy,” Mauti said. “In the U.S., choosing California grown over Ohio grown keeps the money in the U.S. economy.”

In my view, for U.S. consumers to care more about buying domestic, several retailers would have to make promoting USA produce a competitive play. That won’t happen, because most are competing with “local,” not country of origin. For diversified grower-shippers with operations in Mexico, the U.S. and Canada, I would think many of those multinational outfits don’t feel that loyalty to domestic produce accomplishes much for them.

U.S. grower associations could try to rally consumers to the theme. 

Apart from that, consumers could make a passion of choosing U.S. produce if a foreign country of origin sparks a visceral negative response. 

Those scenarios seem unlikely anytime soon. Based on the U.S. track record, quality and price ultimately will have the most sway with retailers and consumers.

Tom Karst is The Packer’s editor. E-mail him at [email protected].

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Submitted by Cervando on Mon, 11/11/2019 - 17:13

I work for a small retail chain as a Produce manager, I have to said that most of our customers don’t care about local, USA or imported produce, they just want everything and I mean everything under 0.99 cents. We have a lot blue collar customers and low income customers as well, anything above $1.99 ea. or lb. forget it, it moves very slow...

Submitted by Charles Rattenberg on Mon, 11/11/2019 - 23:36

US consumers will probably continue choosing the best value. That includes not only price but more importantly, flavor and quality. Organics are another driver in the produce aisle. American consumers are tired of flavorless apples, peaches, and tomatoes and they are willing to pay for the new varieties of apples, better tasting peaches, and vine ripened tomatoes. I'm all for supporting US growers but they have to do their part and earn the public's loyalty. They have done a good job with apples but not with peaches and tomatoes.

Submitted by Brian on Tue, 11/12/2019 - 17:05

I've worked in grocery in both the US and Canada. I found in the US that focus group participants in the US give all the politically correct answers. They want locally grown, vegan, gluten free, meatless produce that is grown in unicorn dust. But when it comes time to decide which tomatoes to put in their cart, the $99 MExican tomatoes win out over the $1.99 locally grown. Price first, then freshness, and the organic really doesn't matter to most.

In Canada, our short growing season means we need to enjoy that freshness while we can. We can't get fresh grapes or cherries in December. There are limited supplies of local hydroponic lettuce and that type of thing. Again, lots of shoppers claim to only buy local but the fact of our weather means those tomatoes you bought in January probably weren't locally grown. I see lots of fraud at Farmers Markets where vendors claim to have locally grown produce, but it isn't. Again, best value, as Charles said, will always rule.

Submitted by Brian on Tue, 11/12/2019 - 17:06

And that should be the 99 cent tomatoes - not the $99 tomatoes. Sorry about that.

In reply to by Brian (not verified)