Shoppers hunger to buy local
By: Frenche Brewer, email@example.com, 803-777-3691
Paraphrasing the old real estate adage, the best fruit and produce are locally, locally, locally grown.
And, what was once a roadside market or pick-your-own operation has today turned into big business, particularly for grocery retailers attempting to capitalize on the local food movement.
The question: Does consumers’ hunger for local fruits and vegetables have an impact on retail grocers’ buying strategies?
That’s what Jeffrey Campbell,researcher in the Department of Retailing in the University of South Carolina’s College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management is trying to determine.
Concerns over food safety in the past five years are prompting more consumers to consider where their food is coming from, and ask for locally grown food when they go to the supermarket. At the same time, retail grocers are seizing on the concept of selling local produce and are adding more choices to their fresh food sections, creating another revenue stream while also supporting the communities in which they operate. From this perspective, both parties can benefit.
Still, some consumers remain skeptical that large grocery stores have a positive impact on local growers, and many small and community-based grocery stores have closed during the past couple of decades.
Campbell is the lead author of a research paper “Billion Dollar Baby: Local Foods and U.S. Grocery,” which was selected best conference paper at the International Food Marketing Research Symposium in Philadelphia in July. The objective of his research is to determine how consumers view “local” in the retail grocery setting and what factors contribute to the consumer decision to add locally produced items to their shopping list, either before entering the store or once they begin the selection process at the produce counter. Since 2008, the government has defined “local” as food that comes from no more than 400 miles away or from within the same state.
“I am trying to understand if this is a sustainable process or if local will shift away from supermarkets at some point and back to the farmers markets, which continue to grow every year,” Campbell said.
This is important to the grocery industry because research has shown that consumers are willing to pay more for locally produced food items and because supermarkets are continually under pressure to increase profits in their low-margin industry. Also, market research has shown that in-store factors such as displays, signage or information about where the items are grown can have a positive effect on consumer decision making.
For grocers, the challenge is twofold -- first to make locally produced food products available to consumers on a more consistent basis (particularly in season) and second, to let the consumers know in a meaningful way that they support local grocers and producers.
“For example, Whole Foods came in to Columbia for a day and invited small local farmers to bring their food to decide which ones they would carry in their stores, but that’s the exception to the rule,” Campbell said.
Campbell is using his expertise in retail and marketing to examine the impact that grocery retailing is having on local producers. Overall, the research will help to establish which factors in the producer-to-consumer process are more important in driving grocery sales for locally produced items and which factors are less meaningful. This should ultimately impact retail grocery strategies moving forward.
“It starts with grocers making that decision that yes, we want to start carrying more local and how can we find those producers that would best service our needs within a specific area,”
It’s a way for retailers to build good will in their communities; producers will have a much larger outlet in which to get their goods to the consumer and for the consumer –
“I think for the consumer, the end result is choices. When it comes down to it, we want healthy choices and more access to healthy foods. More choices, hopefully means better pricing, with better pricing comes accessibility. With more accessibility people will begin making better decisions regarding their food intake,” Campbell said.