BELLEVUE, Wash. — Supermarkets rate high with consumers as places to buy local products, recent research shows, and that presents opportunity, Hartman Group officials said.
In fact, 62% of consumer respondents in a recent Hartman study named their local grocery store as the place where they frequently buy local products. Farmers' markets were named by 61%. By contrast, only 20% named health food stores.
Since consumers already feel they're buying local products at their supermarkets, that perception could be honed to benefit the entire store, Hartman officials said.
“If retailers just choose a few categories of local products to promote, and do a good job with them, that can build a halo around almost every product in the store,” Hartman Group president Laurie Demeritt told SN last week.
“Just do a few things right and you get a lot of credit for it. It can give the store distinction, especially when there's a story behind a product.”
Demeritt said qualitative consumer research has shown that consumers like to know a product's history and also something about the farmer or producer of the product.
“We would encourage retailers to make as much connection as they can between the product and a place or a person,” Demeritt said, adding that when warm weather comes, it would be a good idea to get a producer into the store to meet face-to-face with customers.
“I know it's operationally difficult and expensive, but it's worth it. People love that. They remember it for a long time. It occupies a place in their minds, and they tell their friends about it.”
Such events cement the idea of “local” in the customer's head, she explained. Connecting a person so closely with the product underscores the localness of the product. And “local” can mean a whole host of things to the customer, all of them positive.
The Hartman study, released late last month, shows that consumers equate “local” with quality, freshness, healthiness, fewer pesticides, and care in the making or growing of the product.
They have a natural inclination, too, to think, “We do things well here in my community,'” Demeritt said.
The fervor for all things local has hit its stride in varying degrees recently. Some people are apt to see “buying local” as protecting the community and its environment, and thus protecting themselves and their families.
Most of the recent survey respondents associated “buying local” with buying food.
They were most apt to completely agree with a definition of buying local that describes it as “food grown close to home and sold in my community.” Fifty-seven percent chose that answer. Then, 47% completely agreed with a definition that said, “food products grown within 100 miles of me.”
Slightly less than half (43%) agreed with a more holistic definition of buying local that embraces not just food, but buying products “that support small businesses such as farmers, artisans and craft persons in my community.”
Regardless of which definition they chose as the one they completely agree with, more than three-quarters (77%) of respondents said they are currently buying products they perceive to be made or produced locally.
Hartman researchers found that the concept of “local products” is much like that of the multifaceted term “sustainability,” where the term means different things to different consumers and takes on diverse connotations depending on place, culture and lifestyle. For many consumers, local products are understood in terms of a relative distance from their home: Half of consumers (50%) define “local product” to mean “made or produced within 100 miles,” while one-third of consumers (37%) understand local to mean “made or produced in my state.”