Consumers increasingly favor locally grown, locally produced food.

By Kathleen Furore

 

When you’re looking for local ingredients for sandwiches and salads, you can’t get any closer than on your roof or outside your front door.

That’s just where Helen Cameron sources much of the produce featured on the menu at Uncommon Ground, her restaurant with locations in Chicago’s Wrigleyville and Edgewater neighborhoods. The flagship Wrigleyville location features the sidewalk farm; Edgewater is home to the nation’s first certified organic rooftop farm.

 

“I grew up in Chicago with Old-World European parents who grew their own vegetables. We used to pick fruit and can things too, so I’ve always had that connection to the local community and the desire to help local businesses,” Cameron says. “It has always been part of our mission at Uncommon Ground.”

 

 

Cameron came early to the local food movement (she’s been focusing on fresh, local ingredients since opening the doors in Wrigleyville in July 1991). Now businesses nationwide – independents, chains and big box retailers alike – are following suit as consumers increasingly embrace food products grown or produced close to home.

 

“Consumer demand for fresher, natural, organic and locally sourced foods and beverages is reaching a crescendo and big box retailers are taking notice,” a May 27 press release from Packaged Facts says, citing Target as an example of a retailer making the move to local products. “The timing perhaps couldn’t be better for Target to make fresher, locally sourced products a priority.”

Uncommon Ground's Edgewater rooftop farm, above, and their Wrigleyville sidewalk farm, below, source most of the produce featured on the Chicago restaurant's menu.

“Local has become a shorthand descriptor that makes food sound high quality, fresher, more authentic, trustworthy, environmentally friendly and supportive of the local community – key factors for attracting shoppers and encouraging repeat business.”

 

—Susan Porjes, analyst and author of “Shopping for Local Foods in the U.S.,” a January 2015 report from Packaged Facts

 

Industry data reveals that locally grown and produced foods are experiencing an impressive uptick in demand as well as widening availability – so much so that “locally grown” is commonly considered “the next organic,” information from Packaged Facts says.

 

“Over the past 10 years, there has been a huge surge in consumer demand for local foods,” says Susan Porjes, analyst and author of “Shopping for Local Foods in the U.S.,” a January 2015 report from Packaged Facts. “A proprietary Packaged Facts National Consumer Survey conducted in November 2014 among U.S. adults age 18+ found that 53 percent of 2,271 respondents specially seek out locally grown or locally produced foods.”

 

Numbers Tell a Local Story

 

 

Based on a United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service Economic Research Report on Direct and Intermediated Marketing of Local Foods in the United States.

The numbers are impressive. In 2014, local foods generated almost $12 billion in sales, or approximately 1.8 percent of total retail sales of foods and beverages. And that isn’t the end of the local story.

 

“Over the next five years, local foods will begin the period with an 11 percent annual growth rate, gradually picking up to 12 percent annually (considerably faster than the 5 percent annual pace of total food and beverage sales) to approach $20 billion in 2019, or 2.4 percent of total retail sales of food and beverages,” Packaged Facts predicts.

Just what is behind the groundswell of support for local foods?

 

Sixty percent of consumers who purchase local products say they do so because the products are fresher, 52 percent say they buy local products to support local businesses, and 44 percent say they think locally grown and produced products taste better, data from Packaged Facts shows.

 

That means in-store and freestanding delis alike can capitalize on consumers’ desire to eat quality food and to support the local economy by amping up offerings of local products.

 

“Local has become a shorthand descriptor that makes food sound high quality, fresher, more authentic, trustworthy, environmentally friendly, and supportive of the local community – key factors for attracting shoppers and encouraging repeat business,” Porjes says. “It lends additional credibility to the products, particularly when the farmer or producer is identified in marketing materials with a good back story.”

Local Communicates Quality

 

 

Local Options Abound

While produce most often comes to mind when the word local is uttered, meat, poultry and cheese are prime categories to source from local purveyors.

 

Cameron turns to Gunthorp Farms in LaGrange, Ind., and Nueske’s Applewood Smoked Meats in Wittenberg, Wisc., for the ham and bacon in Uncommon Ground’s Cuban Sandwich; Miller Amish Country Poultry in Orland, Ind, for the organic chicken in Helen’s Grilled Chicken Sandwich; and Prairie Pure Cheese in Belvidere, Ill., for cheese such as the Butterkäse used in the Uncommon Macaroni & Cheese (a dish also available with Gunthorp hickory smoked bacon for customers who want a more meaty entree).

 

A similar story is playing out on the retail side at Green Zebra Grocery, a neighborhood store in Portland, Ore., that focuses on fresh, healthy, local fare and gives preference to local growers and producers.

 

“We try to use local companies as much as we can,” Green Zebra’s deli manager, Hoan Malloy, says.

 

Green Zebra Grocery, in Portland, Oregon,uses Sweetheart ham, pork and ribs from Portland-based Tails & Trotters.

Green Zebra Grocery, in Portland, Oregon, sells custom-made deli sandwiches featuring local growers and producers for its ham, pork, salami, capicol, gouda, among other ingredients.

Sweetheart ham, pork and ribs from Portland-based Tails & Trotters; salami and capicola from Portland’s Olympia Provisions; aged gouda from Willamette Valley Cheese Company in Salem; and blue cheese from Rogue Creamery in Central Point are among the Oregon-produced products that grace Green Zebra’s custom-made deli sandwiches and panini.

 

Malloy adds that the quality of the locally produced products Green Zebra offers is key to the store’s success (and its plans to open a second location later this year).

“The market for pre-sliced products is much larger and provides the retailer with the ability to carry more offerings and more unique products that would require specialized equipment and training if they attempted store level slicing.”

 

 

—Tim Urban, chief commercial officer, Volpi Foods

 

 

Suppliers Answer the Local Call

The increasingly loud call for locally produced products is impacting meat and cheese suppliers who work with retail and foodservice delis.

 

St. Louis, Missouri-based Volpi Foods, a company known for its authentic specialty cured meats, receives “a tremendous amount of interest locally for our products,” says Volpi’s chief commercial officer, Tim Urban.

Volpi Foods out of St. Louis is known for authentic cured meats like these.

“The local food movement has impacted Volpi in several ways," Urban explains. Just how significant the impact depends on which definition of local is used to measure the popularity of a product or product category. The first, Urban says, defines local as being within a certain mile radius; the second as being authentic and representing a geography or terroir (a set of conditions in which a food is grown or produced that give it its unique characteristics). “We anticipate a continuing focus and growth on the latter of the two," he adds.

 

And while Urban reports a resurgence of hand-slicing within the specialty retail and independent segments, he says retailers are more focused on growing grab-and-go and pre-sliced offerings – due in part to rising labor rates.

 

“The market for pre-sliced products is much larger and provides the retailer with the ability to carry more offerings and more unique products that would require specialized equipment and training if they attempted store level slicing,” he says. “The slicing of the meat is an art in itself and requires specialization and skill. Any retailer who chooses to slice on site needs to understand the nuances and specialization of this process.”

 

Weber slicers help Volpi perfect that art. “Weber’s technical services group is readily available to trouble shoot problems and issues,” Urban says. “We have found Weber to be highly responsive to our current and future needs by their willingness to sit with us to design and define our requirements early on in the process. This approach is critical for a fast growing company with an evolving consumer.”

 

Gossner Foods, based in Logan, Utah, in the Cache Valley, is home to family-owned Gossner Foods Corporation, producers of more than 30 varieties of cheese, including the high quality Swiss cheese that launched the company in 1966.

Gossner Foods out of Logan, Utah, produces more than 30 varieties of cheese.

The fact that the cheese is produced using milk from Gossner’s own milk plant makes it appealing to local retailers such as Lee’s Marketplace, according to Jason Simper, sales manager at Gossner.

 

“There has been a big push in the past four or five years on buying local,” Simper says. “Stores have signs that say, ‘Buy Local,’ and it helps that our cheese is a locally produced product.

 

“All of our customers give us certain specifications that we have to meet—some want the cheese sliced really thin, some want it really thick,” Simper continues. “We are here to do whatever we’re asked to do.”

 

A Weber 902 slicer ensures that Gossner is able to fulfill customers’ requests, which can range from half-ounce to one-ounce slices, Simper notes.

 

The local foods movement also has had some influence on brand recognition for Rumiano Cheese Company, a Crescent City, California-based business that has been a family enterprise for three generations.

“Many stores, even chains like Whole Foods, have begun searching for local products – or regional in our case – to highlight in stores,” says Owen Rumiano, one of the company’s six owners. “We are a 93-year-old company, which has also helped with establishing the Rumiano name as a California local brand. We are nationally distributed, and local doesn't have too much bearing outside of California. But we have definitely seen an increase in the interest of locally sourced products in our home state.”

 

When it comes to slicing those locally produced cheeses, Rumiano turns to Weber. “We use two slicers for all shapes and sizes of slices,” Rumiano says. “Weber helps us by working with us to determine what the best slicer is that will fit our needs based on sales, packaging options, and pack sizes.”

 

Clearly, consumers’ move toward locally grown and produced products presents opportunities for in-store and freestanding delis, as well as the meat and cheese producers who serve them.

What Does Local Really Mean?

There’s no doubt the demand for locally grown and produced food products is on the rise. But just what does the word local mean to consumers?

 

While no standard definition of local exists, the 2008 Farm Act defines a “locally or regionally produced agricultural food product” as one that is marketed less than 400 miles from its origin. The Food Safety Modernization Act, enacted in January 2011, defines local as food purchased within 275 miles or the same state where it was produced.

 

 

Most consumers favor a definition that is closer to home. More than half (51 percent) of consumers polled in the proprietary Packaged Facts National Consumer Survey conducted in November 2014 believe that local should mean “produced or grown within 50 miles of where it is sold” and a further 24 percent extend the radius to 100 miles. Only 12 percent believe that local should be defined as “produced or grown in my region of the country,” and fewer than 5 percent consider a 200 mile radius local.

 

–Source: “Shopping for Local Foods in the U.S.,” January 2015, Packaged Facts

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