“Local” could be called today’s “IT girl” of food attributes, and research shows the local movement is shaping more places than just trendy Slow Food bistros. In a 2012 survey by the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade, 75 percent of food retailers said local is the most influential product claim in the specialty food sector right now. This is no fad. In fact, the majority of those surveyed said they believe the importance of local is expected to only expand over the next three to five years.
It’s not surprising that more people want to purchase products made or sourced close to home. For many shoppers, attaching local to a product conveys that it is more sustainable, healthier, and helping to provide jobs in the local community. Locally produced food is also often thought of as being safer (although this is not always the case), and it provides people with a connection to their food that we as a society lost many decades ago.
Naturally, food retailers are at the heart of local, and no one is helping to fuel the local movement more than natural products retailers. As we explore throughout the April issue of Natural Foods Merchandiser, retailers from Winchester, Ky., to Bath, Maine to Boulder, Colo., are finding innovative ways to support local producers, their local economies and their own businesses.
My favorite retailer story told within this issue comes from Shelton’s Natural Foods Market in Healdsburg, Calif. I had the privilege of visiting Shelton’s Market and its companion organic vegetable garden in 2011. As I walked the 1.5 acres with Ernie and Marty Shelton, I could see, smell and feel their passion for bringing healthy, organic food to their local community. This passion emanated from the garden’s rows of chard, kale, beets and other vegetables, and it emphasized to me how lucky we are to have people like the Sheltons committing their time and talents to the world of natural food retail.
Retailers, of course, are not the only ones building the future of local. Many of today’s brightest minds in the natural and organic food industry are also working to move the needle on two crucial and interrelated fronts: scaling local and bringing the transparency enabled by smaller-scale, local agriculture production to consumer packaged goods.
Few companies are pushing the boundaries more in this area than One Degree Organic Foods. This maker of simple, delicious breads and legume-based products uses QR codes on its packaging to connect consumers directly with the story behind each of the ingredients every one of its product. One Degree refers to this concept as “Ingredient Truth,” and this family-run company is making an art out of using technology to share the stories of its farmers and their “veganic” growing methods. I believe we are just seeing the beginnings of how companies will use technology to create cleaner, more transparent and local-inspired products for your shoppers.
How do you support local in your store? How is this benefiting your business and your community? As always, I would love to hear—and share—your stories. Post them to the NFM Facebook page or to the comments below.