“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 (http://colsa.unh.edu/aes/localproduce), 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 PieCenter.com/LocalFood 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.