Don’t Take Advantage Of Views On “Local” When Marketing

“Local” continues to be an important marketing concept. Many agree with Sherri Marolda, who farms in Atlantic County, NJ, when she said “that rising customer interest in purchasing locally grown crops is the best thing to happen to us in a long time.”


Likewise, a prominent retail produce executive touted that “Locally Grown is the hottest thing in the supermarket industry since sliced bread.”

So why then are these two at opposite ends in a debate raging in Trenton, NJ, about regulating (i.e. defining) the word “local”? The retail produce executive continued: “Most of my New Jersey counterparts are all in agreement that this could be the demise of potentially the most powerful marketing tool we’ve ever had in our tool box.”

Local Gaining Prominence
From California studies in the 1990s to a current report from New Hampshire (, researchers show consumers’ interest in and willingness to pay more for local produce is
gaining prominence in fresh fruits and vegetables sales. Consumers surveyed “were willing to pay 35% more for local green beans and snap peas and 55% more for local cucumbers.”

The New Hampshire consumers also “still buy fresh produce at the grocery store, not the farmer’s market or directly from farms,” though that’s hardly a revelation as I’ve discussed before. Only about 1% of fresh produce sales are direct from farm to consumer.

That, of course, is the opportunity Marolda was referring to for the wholesale side of her business as demand is great for filling those supermarket shelves with local product, but also is the challenge for her retail marketing outlets.

Work at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Center for Public Issues Education has been addressing this, identifying that local food sales (all ag products) contribute nearly $8.3 billion to the Florida economy. The center created a toolkit, Selling local food: Your Market Next Door, available at that guides producers through the opportunities that exist in surrounding local food markets. The concepts presented work just as well outside the Sunshine State.

The PIE Center work also shows that local is still in the eye of the beholder, indicating consumers are flexible in defining local, depending on the product, whether it’s in season or not, or if it’s even grown in Florida at all. Unfortunately, that allows produce marketers to take advantage, being able to “fool some of the people all of the time,” or using one-upmanship tactics to convince shoppers that their fruits and vegetables are somehow better than the next store’s.

While a major chain tries to entice new shoppers by touting that its products are “Responsibly Grown,” what growers should be requesting is a “Responsibly Marketed” program.

Leave a Reply

Avatar for Matt Matt says:

The real problem is that “local” is very flexible without some type of legal definition. We have groceries that sell local and list the place they bought it from with “farm miles”. The problem is that many of these so called “farm miles” are to a distributors warehouse.

As an example. We have a produce auction that defines “local” produce as anything that is grown within 150 miles of the auction. The buyers at the auction may be the actual grocery store or it may be a wholesaler. So the wholesaler buys at the auction and takes the produce to his warehouse 100 or more miles away. This produce then goes to the grocery store which is maybe another 100 miles away. The grocery lists it as “local” produce, but lists the wholesaler as the “farm” for the “farm miles.”. When in reality the food could be from 350 or more miles away. Most people would not consider local to be two or three states away.

Local should really be defined as how many miles from where it was grown, not from where it was purchased. That is the only real way to define local. Most people I talk to consider local to be within 80-100 miles of the point of purchase. Most don’t consider “in-state” purchases to be local unless they are within that 80-100 mile distance.

It really burns me when I have a hard time selling real local produce when I know I am competing against food hubs, wholesalers, etc. These larger companies get away with making people think produce is local when in fact it could be from hundreds of miles away.

Pushing stores to list TRUE food miles (i.e. distance from where it was actually grown) should be the true definition used when defining local.

We don’t have to re-create the wheel. Simple definition of local is within the state of which you live.
All the laws and regulations are applicable to the growers and vendors that reside in that state.

The problem is lack of incentive or desire for the Grocers and other providers to supply local when available, then the closest to their consumer as seasons move.

Avatar for Rick Roening Rick Roening says:

By making local mean within the state it is grow it could still be hundreds of miles away. If labeled local the the location should be included, such as the county or specific growing region like is done with wine.