Help Your Shoppers Understand Local

Help Your Shoppers Understand Local

July 13, 2016

by RDBA Contributing Editor Amanda Rubizhevsky, MPH, NC

Consumer confusion is at its height when it comes to food claims and “local” foods are certainly part of the confusion. Local is often equated with high quality, freshness, sustainable, environmentally friendly, traditional, and of course supportive of the community.  The USDA has not formally defined local foods based on a geographical distance, but does acknowledge a more “local” arrangement such as farmers selling directly to consumers or supplying schools or a farmer in the region selling to a supermarket.

Retailers tapping into the local foods trend are sourcing more local products, partnering with local farmers, or building greenhouses on their roofs. Some retailers are in a better position geographically to find products from local vendors and market them with authenticity, but still bringing local to market is happening across the country. 

A recent Packaged Facts report titled, Shopping for Local Foods in the U.S., found that local foods generated $12 billion in sales in 2015, equivalent to 2 percent of total US retail sales of foods and beverages. Packaged Facts anticipates that over the next five years, local foods will grow faster than the annual pace of total food and beverage sales approaching $20 billion in 2019.

As customers approach you with questions about local foods, RDBA has gathered some talking points:

  • Local produce is often picked at peak ripeness because of its proximity to the destination, rather than picked early and shipped across the country or even the globe. 
  • Eating locally grown produce means eating with the seasons. Connecting shoppers to the seasonal changes means they will be able to anticipate, enjoy and add variety to their diets when new produce comes in season.  This provides a great marketing and talking point for RDs to share recipe ideas and health benefits for what’s in season.
  • Local does not always mean small or organic farms. This is an assumption that many believe; get to know some quick facts about the local farms, ranchers and companies that supply your store.  You’ll be able to share with shoppers the unique aspects of buying from each supplier even if they are not the idyllic farms that consumers might imagine. 
  • Use local to help boost produce consumption. Work with a local grower or distributor to set up a CSA program at your store. This weekly delivery will not only help highlight what’s in season, and the nutritional benefits, but with an RD approved recipe corresponding with the contents of the box, shoppers will know exactly what to do with the items when they get home. 
  • Offer seasonally focused cooking classes to encourage shoppers to try new produce items and learn how to best prepare them to preserve nutrient value, while tasting great.  
  • Locally grown food will look very different depending on where you are located.  In locations with snowy winters, locally grown foods are not readily available certain times of the year, play up what’s in season when the produce is plenty and make suggestions based on nutrient dense winter vegetables like roots and hearty leafy greens in winter.