The food business has long touted farm to fork, but lately it’s more about the farm than the fork.
Retailers from chains to independents are playing up innovative farm partnerships as the busy summer local products season peaks.
To put things in perspective, only a portion of products in supermarkets can be considered “local,” and much of that is on the perishables side, in particular produce. Much of the supermarket business is still about nationally distributed, CPG products, as outlined in the annual SN Category Guide, which appears in this issue.
However, retailers are placing more emphasis on local products to differentiate from competitors and play up quality.
Items with direct relationships to farms are being merchandised in more varied and innovative ways.
Retailers such as Meijer are touting farmers on social media in a way that actually builds the brands of these farmers.
Dorothy Lane brought farm and fork together at a store by enabling consumers in Springboro, Ohio, to sit down with farmers and vendors at an “Honestly Local Harvest Dinner.”
Consumers have even been transported to farms in at least one case. Bi-Rite, based in San Francisco, conducts a Farm School Program that includes five farming days at the Bi-Rite Farm in Sonoma.
There’s also a high-tech angle in the case of hydroponic farms, which are often located right near retail stores.
In still another twist, Community Supported Agriculture programs are growing in popularity, enabling consumers to order boxes of produce from area farms. Recently Peapod customers in certain markets were offered a program to participate in this for 12 weeks.
The movement to connect consumers and stores with farms has taken some innovative turns, and it’s hard to predict what’s next. Expect to see more retailer-sponsored initiatives to distribute these products and educate shoppers in the process.
However, even as retailers expand the ways they connect consumers to farm products, they aren’t tiring of more established methods. They’re still mounting impressive in-store displays of local products piled high, along with signage that emphasizes support of local economies.
That’s all to the good, because consumers are still interested in this tried-and-true approach. It may be old fashioned, but it doesn’t go out of style.
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