There is usually spring fever surrounding local produce. As soon as the northern Snow Belt starts turning green, customers are thinking about the bounty of fresh, backyard produce items that will soon be available. The buzz carries over into the grocery and foodservice realms and we get numerous inquiries.
The retail group has done a superb job following through on actually delivering local produce to the customers. I see billboards with grower’s pictures and hear radio ads touting the sweet corn that was picked at 2am today in order to be on the grocer’s shelves on your way home this evening.
The foodservice side, however, seems to be lacking that same enthusiastic follow through. The buyers seem overwhelmed at the thought of adding another line item to their product list that has the word ‘local’ attached to it. The hoards of salespersons that operate out of each regional DC are slow to get the information on what is available, and, since it changes daily due to weather and planting schedules, are afraid to offer something to a customer that might not be available at the time of delivery.
There also are so many varying definitions of local – my State only, maybe include the State next to me, 100 miles from somewhere on a map, anywhere within an 8 hour drive and so on. Retailers have stores in a set geographic area and can define what they mean by local. The foodservice distributors have a bigger challenge as they compete in the same territory with each one having different definitions of local. All of this adds confusion and complication in the marketplace.
Promotion of local produce seems to work very well in the retail arena; promotion in the foodservice sector seems to hinder sales. My solution: don’t talk about it, just do it! Put the ‘most local’ produce in the slot whenever possible and ship that to every customer. It might not meet someone’s exact geographic definition, but it would be a much better system than one that places onerous constraints on the movement of fresh, healthy food to the customer’s plate.