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Natural Foods Merchandiser

Midwest hub represents local in a big way

Local Foods Retailer of the Year nominee
Local Foods, a distributor meets retailer meets farm promoter, gained NFM, Natural Product Expo Retailer of the Year nomination for its innovative business model.

Part grocery store, part café, part butcher, Chicago’s Local Foods has come up with a unique model for serving the neighborhood it occupies. The store focuses on sourcing as much food from the local region as possible, building relationships with both farmers and chefs in the process to build markets and ensure all players in the food chain, in their words, “can concentrate on what they do best: farming and preparing delicious local foods.”

Here are a few ways Local Foods stands out for innovation:

One roof, many entities. Retail occupies only a fraction of Local Foods’ approximately 30,000-square-foot space. The rest is divided between its wholesale distribution operation—which supplies many of Chicago’s most popular restaurants—a café, and a meat processing division that provides the store with charcuterie to sell retail. The team considers the store a public market because while it doesn’t house different private vendors, “we represent vendors from all over the Midwest in one store,” said CEO Andrew Lutsey.

Wholesale distribution ensures all-around quality. Because Local Foods serves as a wholesale distributor for popular Chicago restaurants, it has also become the go-to retail store for the chefs who run those kitchens. “When you shop at Local Foods, you’re shopping for the same foods that your favorite chefs are shopping for. It’s the same arugula, it’s the same raspberries and melons, the same meat that you could get conceivably at some of your favorite restaurants,” said Lutsey.

In-house meat operation. Operating Chicago’s first whole-animal butcher shop, Local Foods produces modern, artisan takes on old-world traditional recipes. The charcuterie program, said Lutsey, is really where Local Foods stands out.

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