Thursday, January 7, 2010

Thoughts on "Local" and Marketing

Local food is hot. There are organizations dedicated to supporting the local foods movement (Local Harvest, Slow Food, etc.), books, blogs, and articles in major newspapers (NY Times) discussing and commenting on the movement, restaurants/chefs committed to using local ingredients, even Facebook groups dedicated to the topic. The use of local foods has even become a focal point in television shows such as 'Top Chef,' where in one episode the competing chefs were challenged to create two dishes with all local ingredients (except salt and pepper). This particular competition was held in the Napa Valley and everything available to the chefs came from within a 100 mile radius.

USDA data support the messages seen in the press and on television. The number of farmers markets has grown consistently over the past 15 years. In 1994 there were 1755 farmers markets. The number grew to 5274 in 2009 with 13 percent growth just from 2008 to 2009 (see chart). Between 2002 and 2007, the number of U.S. farms that sold agricultural products directly to individuals for human consumption grew by 6.2 percent (116,733 to 136,817), with average annual per-farm direct marketing receipts increasing from $6,958 to $8,853. In PA, direct sales grew by 11.9 percent (6,082 to 7,537) with direct marketing receipts increasing from $8,839 to $10,069.

For farms selling direct to the consumer, marketing is involved. Part of marketing involves the portrayal of a message to potential and current customers. You're trying to tell them why they should buy from you.

I've been to a number of conferences and overheard numerous comversations lately where different people at some point indicate that "local" means "quality." They make statements such as "Local produce is higher quality," or "Local is better." Better how? Answering the "better how" is the part that few seem to follow through on when they make these types of generalized statements.

Now, if people would say "Local (insert product of choice here) is better because..." this statement could be completed in several ways, depending on what was of importance to the person making it; for instance:

  • "You're supporting the local economy"

  • "It's fresher"

  • "Less fuel has been used transporting it"

With the statement "local food is better" without any further specification, isn't one implying that the food grown non-locally to you (but locally to someone else) is inferior? If you're in New York, are you saying that the food in Tennessee isn't as good as the food grown 15 miles from you? Why shouldn't someone be able to want the best quality food product no matter where it originates from?

When marketing a product, food or otherwise, you don't want to alienate potential customers because a message used was not clear or perhaps offended because you didn't provide context to allow the customer to understand why you used that language.

1 comment:

Tracy said...
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