Natural Foods Merchandiser
9 ways to build better relationships with local producers

9 ways to build better relationships with local producers

Adopt the following expert tips to foster positive relationships with producers and to grow local product sales.

Today, eaters want to know not only where their food comes from, but also who grew it and how growers cultivated it or manufacturers made it. Retail business experts believe consumers will pay more for local food with a great story, and customers will likely seek additional value-added products when shopping. How do you entice these patrons to your store?

Retail consultant

  1. Choose fitting products.
    When you discover local products in boutiques, at roadside stands or at other retail outlets, find out how many units are sold weekly—more than 12 units is a solid item for any store. Also test the products to ensure that they—as well as the labels and production facilities—align with quality standards. Use your private label standards for manufacturers as a guide in this step. If all checks out, determine whether the producer can supply your ongoing needs.
  2. Grow sales gradually.
    Begin selling a local product in a few stores—or a few local products in one department—to test consumer interest. Identify basic promotional activities that will jump-start consumer trial, such as media ads, coupons, demos, small displays and shelf signage. Track weekly movement and supply demands, and be sure you and the producer can maintain expansion into all stores.
  3. Gain an edge.
    If supply is limited, can you get an exclusive for selling the product? If supply is not limited, can you buy more volume for lower cost or request label enhancements unique to your store? Interview the producer and determine if you can add any product history to your marketing materials.

John Smrekar, president of Instore Marketing 21 in Orange County, Calif.

 Natural products retailer

  1. Build rapport.
    Most natural products shoppers crave community and roots. “Knowing” a producer creates a neighborly relationship that a major brand can’t offer. It’s a win-win-win situation: Sales increase, the local economy blossoms and the consumer takes home a great product. Relationship building includes local signage introducing the producer, in-store sampling and events, and online company profiles.
  2. Stay in touch.
    Retailers and local producers can take advantage of inhabiting the same geographical area. Invite producers to demos or tastings. Similarly, take a trip to the farm, interview the farmer, take photos and write an article highlighting specialties, standards and techniques. Cross-promotion also occurs easily: A neighboring business is often happy to stock magnets, brochures or fliers detailing where to purchase local products.
  3. Empower staff.
    Sales training turns floor staff into brand advocates. The producer can share the who, what, why and where of a product with your employees. Then encourage team members to cross-train one another so that all customer-staff interactions are as informative as possible. Sales increase when people connect with products.

April Lea Pedrick, Marketing coordinator for Harvest Market Natural Foods in Hockessin, Del.

Local business expert

  1. Define local.
    At Transition Colorado, our emphasis is on sourcing food ingredients as locally as possible. For us, this means getting food within our “foodshed,” or at least from within the state. We see this as an economic development strategy, as well as making our food supply less environmentally damaging and healthier for our citizens. Once you define localfor your store, you can more easily pursue producers that fit your criteria.
  2. Promote local sourcing.
    Inform value-added manufacturers that you will give preference to locally sourced products. Tell them that you are willing to support the higher price this usually entails and that you might be willing to provide contracts (because local growers and value-added producers who source locally are often small-scale businesses and need higher margins to survive). 
  3. Be authentic.
    “Natural” and “organic” brands have been built by traditional marketing methods. “Local” is coming up from the grass roots. To build trust, credibility and a solid position in the local category, retailers need to go beyond shelf talkers. Support grassroots efforts to build the local food economy. For instance, you can sponsor and promote the 10 percent Local Food Pledge (

Michael Brownlee, Catalyst for Transition Colorado in Boulder, Colo.

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