How Local Foods Movement Affects Manufacturers
Every day, celebrity chefs such as Jamie Oliver, Alice Waters and Rick Bayless promote the local foods movement in the media, cookbooks and restaurants. They encourage local food sourcing for its more flavorful taste when picked closer to peak ripeness and increased nutrients due to shorter time spans from harvest to table.
They also espouse the reduced carbon footprints from shorter transit times and greater propensity to be safe, benefits also described by Michigan State University.
Yet despite the movement's seeming popularity in the media and through a burgeoning pool of weekly farmers markets, local foods that go directly from farmer to consumer constitute only 0.4 percent of all agricultural sales, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This shows, in contrast to the foodie perspective, that consumers still buy and eat significant amounts of packaged foods and rely on supermarkets for their purchases.
But given the attention and goodwill the local foods movement generates with the media and consumers, and the perception of high quality, healthfulness and freshness its offerings enjoy, it can pay off for consumer packaged goods companies (CPGs) to embrace aspects of its profile in their products.
Some have. Consider Eden Foods, a Michigan-based organic foods company, which works with a network of more than 360 family farms nationwide to source its raw materials. In another twist on fresh foods, some companies have learned how to balance fresh and packaged elements in the processed foods they produce. They have created packaged options that are as healthy, if not more so, than fresh foods. Other firms now appeal to consumers' desire for healthful options by offering nutritionally enhanced foods.
How Manufacturers Can Participate In Local Foods Movement
Nevertheless, manufacturers can leverage lessons learned from the local foods movement. For instance, consumers seek out local produce because of its perceived taste, quality and benefits to communities and the environment. With today’s state-of-the-art technologies and packaging formats, processed and packaged foods can deliver taste and quality with flavors and nutrients that maintain their strength and integrity. And national manufacturers can also fulfill consumers’ appreciation for the social and environmental benefits that local brings. For instance, CPG firms that want to appeal to consumers who seek out local foods options can take proactive steps to tweak their marketing efforts. In a white paper, Chef Lance Avery described some of the steps firms can implement to do this, such as:
- Promoting existing relationships with local growers in marketing campaigns;
- Sourcing food locally when it makes sense; and
- Incorporating local foods concepts, from freshness to social responsibility, into new product development, rather than redeveloping existing items.
By focusing on the environmental and social benefits of their products, and embracing some or all of the steps enumerated above, CPG firms can deliver a message like that of the local foods movement, whose adherents are often driven by similar ideas. Even taking small steps, such as sharing the stories of their suppliers, can tap into the local foods movement concepts, because for many shoppers, a large part of the appeal lies in knowing where their food comes from.