The sense of local food is growing, and now there is solid research to back that up. During the 2012 Florida Ag Expo, a marketing forum was held during the morning portion of the educational program. Tracy Irani, UF/IFAS Center for Public Issues Education, wrapped up the first session by reviewing a newly released consumer study on local food choice, led by UF/IFAS economist Alan Hodges.
Irani said one of the more surprising finds of the study shows that consumers identify with produce grown within 100 miles of their location. For example, “local” to a Florida consumer can mean more than around the corner. Comfort zones radiate out from food grown within a certain area where they live (county, surrounding counties), to food grown in Florida, food grown in the Southeast U.S., to food grown in the U.S. “People are looking at local food choice much more broadly than we first thought,” she said.
In addition to local food choice gaining momentum, the movement is becoming a significant economic driver in the state. “It has a $1.63 billion economic impact on the Florida market,” Irani said. “All produce grown in Florida is something that resonates with local consumers.”
To take advantage of this, Irani offered several tips applicable for both small-scale producers as well as large operations. Some tips applied to both, such as increasing exposure and promotion, and merchandising their products properly. The trust factor, though, came down on opposite sides of the fence. While small growers need to build trust with consumers when it comes to food safety/quality perception, larger producers are dealing more with an image problem. “Big doesn’t always mean bad,” Irani said. “Consumers know there is standard quality controls. Size doesn’t matter.”