As a mark of premium distinction, foods and beverages with a local angle have been rising stars within a crowded field of designations that speak to premium quality, including organic and natural, "free-of" products and those that are artisanal or handmade. The Hartman Group has been tracking the term's meteoric rise to stardom for years now. In our Organic & Natural 2014 report, we found that "the authenticity halo around organic and natural has begun to fade, and local foods and beverages are poised to surpass them as a symbol of trust and transparency."
Local is an even bigger deal today. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which both supports and tracks the local food infrastructure within the United States, recently estimated annual sales of local food and beverage products at over $11 billion. Elaborating on the topic, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, in an interview with NPR's The Salt, notes, "'Local food is rapidly growing from a niche market to an integrated system recognized for its economic boost to communities across the country.'"
What makes local “special” from the consumer’s perspective?
Support of community and regional economics and foodways is one significant element. Where, earlier, local acted as a philosophical bridge between organic and natural, today the term offers a compelling narrative that resonates with many salient food trends and consumer concerns, including the following central ideas:
Local offers greater transparency and trust
Local is seen as fresher and more seasonal and has strong linkages to organic shoppers
There is a strong upside to marketing “local,” especially for retailers and restaurants where consumers see them as trusted allies in their quest for transparency and authenticity. Local retailers and restaurants are seen as excelling in taking a stand on issues and demonstrating alignment with consumers’ values and priorities that link to local. These include pledges to support local small producers, not carry GMOs and not stock unethical brands, and being transparent about menu ingredients on prepared foods.
In restaurants and food service, the farm-to-table movement has inspired a cultural shift toward locally produced products with accompanying links to transparency and authenticity. As cultural icons, chefs are influential figures who help set the course for broader trends in food culture that link to “local,” as demonstrated in these observations from Hartman Group findings:
Buying local is a big deal today, and we believe there is room for it to continue to exert its influence for years to come. Local is an on-trend cue of quality with strong links to healthier, more sustainable lifestyles and gourmet food experiences as well as even stronger ties to the sentiments of supporting one’s communities, economy and environment. The upside to marketing “buy local” remains in being transparent and authentic.
As leaders in the study of American food culture, The Hartman Group has been tracking how Americans shop for food since the 1990s. From one-stop shopping to multichannel shopping to online markets and click-and-collect, we continue to track consumers’ evolving perceptions, needs, habits and relationships with food retailers. New to the 2017 report is a special section on the expansion of the discount grocery channel, the emerging fresh-format channel and smaller-footprint retail formats.