As consumers begin to demand locally sourced food, grocery retailers have started to take advantage of the farm to fork movement. And for a good reason too.
Research from AT Kearney shows that an overwhelming percentage of customers rank ‘freshness’ as the most crucial factor when buying any food across all categories. Locally sourced food is naturally associated with quality and fresh produce. So, leveraging this trend can significantly increase ROI and build brand loyalty.
Rutgers University defines farm to fork, also known as farm to table, as “a food system in which food production, processing, distribution, and consumption are integrated to enhance the environmental, economic, social and nutritional health of a particular place.”
Customers are driving the farm to fork movement for four main reasons:
Consumers are also opting for locally grown food as it’s considered fresher, tastier, and even healthier as fruit and veg retain their essential vitamins.
The farm to fork movement presents a significant opportunity for retailers. More than 68% of global consumers prefer locally sourced fruit and vegetables, while 95% of urban American households are willing to pay more for locally sourced foods. And, profit from local foods is expected to reach over $20 billion this year.
Grocery chains and big-box retailers, like Wal-Mart, Whole Foods and Sainsbury’s, are eagerly jumping on the bandwagon. According to Fortune, Wal-Mart sells 749.6 million dollars of locally grown produce a year while Supervalu, Albertson and Lucky chains purchase 25-40% of their food from local farmers.
The Farm to Fork movement not only helps you increase overall revenue, but also has some other clear benefits for retailers:
It’s pretty clear why more and more retailers are adopting a hyper-local approach and stock their stores with locally sourced produce.
While the farm to fork movement certainly presents opportunities to retailers, it’s not an easy process. Large retailers must adapt their ways of working and marketing to get the best results from consumer trend and build lasting relationships with local farmers.
One of the most significant points of contention within the food to fork movement is defining ‘locally sourced.’ At present, there isn’t one legal definition, which creates a grey zone.
Most consumers, roughly 65%, define local food as produce is grown or manufactured within a 100-mile radius.
However, some retailers adopt ‘local’ branding to convey that their product tastes good and is fresh. But, products can actually come from several states or countries away. After all, are strawberries grown in Morocco local to the UK? Or are apricots grown in Southern California local in Washington?
After all, the further away from a product's origin, the more significant the environmental impact. But, some regions, like the UK, have limited growing seasons or small farms that can’t keep up with the demand. So, sourcing locally isn’t always possible and retailers need to source food from further and further away.
Without a legal definition, it’s tricky to determine where the line is and create one standard definition for ‘locally sourced.’
When the organic movement first kicked-off, there wasn’t a legal definition for ‘organic.’ However, as the industry gained pace, the USDA has set guidelines for what qualifies as organic to prevent retailers from blurring the lines. So, it may just be a matter of time before we have a legal definition for ‘locally sourced’ too.
Large retailers often rely on complex distribution systems that deliver as many products as possible within as few trips as possible for maximum efficiency. However, this system doesn’t always work with local farmers as they’re more susceptible to supply shortages, impacts of bad weather, and other issues.
On the other hand, retailers have struggled to find a solution or to break down their efficient distribution systems without increasing overheads and expenses. Distribution systems are often one of the most significant barriers preventing retailers and local farmers from collaborating.
A report from Cornell University suggested one way around this dilemma would be to increase product packaging, storage, and distribution opportunities. For example, by creating processing hubs where farmers can bring their raw produce to be washed, graded/certified, packaged, and then distributed.
While consumers already have some awareness of the benefits of locally sourced food, many products lack clear labelling. So, it's difficult for customers to choose products from local farms consistently.
The NFU highlighted this issue in a recent report on retail and farmer collaboration and explained that this is especially pertinent in the British dairy sector. Logos, like the Union Jack, help consumers quickly and easily identify whether the product came from British farms. However, grocery retailers could do more to increase visibility, especially on own-brand products.
While stocking large grocery stores with local produce is undoubtedly challenging, it’s not impossible to overcome these obstacles. And, with 38% of Americans willing to pay 5% more for local food, overcoming these barriers has some serious financial incentives.
Technology may offer the perfect solution to building winning relationships with local farmers and delivering tasty, healthy produce to consumers. Here are some of the start-up tech companies disrupting agriculture and making it easier to scale the farm to fork movement.
RangeMe seeks to build bridges between large corporations and small suppliers to make it easier for retailers to find, sample and source products. Suppliers can showcase their products while retailers can browse by category and then start conversations to fill local demands.
Forager streamlines the buying process with its digital procurement platform. Retailers can find local suppliers, place orders, process payments and schedule delivery. Likewise, local farmers can securely locate interested buyers and showcase their products.
Once retailers find a connect with local farmers, research from Statistica shows that promotions help US consumers to purchase food. Based on their survey, they found 64% of consumers were more motivated to buy local food items after receiving an alert about an upcoming discount or in-season/in-stock product.
Sending notifications to customers about locally sourced items provide the extra cherry on top and help you maximise the impact of working with local farmers.
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