Will the local food movement see a post-pandemic boost?

Discussion
Photo: RetailWire
Jan 25, 2021
Tom Ryan

The local foods movement has been growing for at least a decade and appears to have picked up speed during the pandemic.

Surveys have shown consumers eager to buy from independent retailers and restaurants as many have been faced with challenges created by the spread of COVID-19. To a lesser degree, such community support is believed to have extended to local farmers and food purveyors.

Kim Severson, writing for The New York Times,  included “Hometown Tastes” as one of her top food trends for 2021 as travel-restricted consumers are drawn to “hyper-regional American food.” Ms. Severson wrote, “That means renewed interest in state-specific barbecue styles, locally made sodas and cheeses, fish species from nearby waters and sweet specialties like the chocolate-dipped peanut butter Ohio buckeye or Kentucky cream pull candy.”

Also supporting demand for local foods has been the uptick in home cooking during the pandemic, complemented by interest in home gardening and food preservation. Relatedly, the health crisis has heightened attention around food quality to the benefit of local farmers.

From the logistics front, empty grocery store shelves “revealed the potential for supply chain disruptions and prompted shoppers to explore buying directly from local farms, which were reeling from the disruption of restaurant and other food service clients and needed new revenue streams,” wrote Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz for the Chicago Tribune. A number of farms, especially those near urban centers, have augmented their efforts with direct marketing and launched e-commerce capabilities to capitalize on the demand.

Some grocers are amplifying their local food efforts. Hy-Vee is hosting quarterly “Best of Local Brands” summits in 2021. Meijer just announced plans to host its first virtual Localization Summit. Said Peter Whitsett, Meijer’s EVP of merchandising and marketing, in a statement, “Each Meijer store should represent its customers and the community that makes those customers unique.”

In a column for The Farmer’s Exchange, professors at the Michigan State University Extension wrote that the “buy local” movement should strengthen as additional consumers have experienced farm markets, farmer’s markets and direct sales of fruit, vegetables, beef and other protein products. The professors added, “How much of an increase is hard to gauge.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: In what ways have you witnessed the local foods movement gaining momentum during the pandemic? Which factors that are either new or were accelerated during the pandemic could support the trend’s long-term growth?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Locally produced foods have long been a staple for the cooperative grocery movement. In my opinion, this part of a bigger trend towards sustainability more than anything else."
"Local farmer’s markets were jump-started by the desire to shop outdoors last summer."
"I have seen a major uptick in local food choices in my work with the Boston Main Streets Foundation where I am on the board of directors."

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9 Comments on "Will the local food movement see a post-pandemic boost?"


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Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

Some of the restaurants around us have started selling meal kits and ready-prepared meals for in-home consumption. A lot of them are independents and bring their unique regional perspective on flavors and recipes. This has been popular as it adds variety and excitement to mealtimes. It also feels good to support local businesses. There are quite a few farmers markets near to us, although some of the larger ones have struggled with social distancing during the pandemic. However, this is mostly because they are well attended and lots of people show up to buy the healthy and fresh foods.

Ben Ball
BrainTrust

Local farmer’s markets were jump-started by the desire to shop outdoors last summer. As we have written here about so many pandemic effects, this merely accelerated an already growing trend. That was certainly true here in our own mid-size city suburban environment. Look for that to continue in 2021, pandemic receding or not.

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

I went to a farmer’s market this past weekend. Booths were socially distanced, and people followed social distancing rules and were masked. I saw a more than expected amount of people supporting the market which helped support the theory that the local customer base is indeed supporting the local food business. The local food businesses have also adapted as I saw nearly 100% of the businesses use contactless payment systems and had established an online presence to sell their goods. I believe the support will definitely continue post pandemic.

Gary Sankary
BrainTrust

Locally produced foods have long been a staple for the cooperative grocery movement. In my opinion, this part of a bigger trend towards sustainability more than anything else. Organic and gluten free have been traditional “health food store” staples for a long time. Today I can get these same products everywhere in the market. Locally produced foods however, have a new competitive vehicle for Coops, their customers like supporting local businesses, it aligns with the mission of most food coops.

Local also aligns well with the values of customers who are concerned about their carbon footprints and who make purchase decisions accordingly.

At our Coop, we’ve seen a huge uptick in CSA Boxes, customers signing up for produce, sight unseen, based only on the idea that it’s locally produced. I’m not surprised to see this start to happen in large chains. The interest is certainly there.

Scott Norris
Guest

New technology is helping, too. I’m excited about “micro milling” which allows bakeries or local wholesalers to grind grain in small lots to specific precision with good economics. This used to require industrial-scale machinery and continent-sized supply chains (I worked at ConAgra in the mid-’90s and have some wild tales about flour!), but now you can truly get localized grain products for specific restaurant or home-use needs.

Ken Morris
BrainTrust

I have seen a major uptick in local food choices in my work with the Boston Main Streets Foundation where I am on the board of directors. We have been working with the 20 neighborhoods of Boston to bring technology both eCommerce (New Websites, BOPAC and BOPIS) as well as traditional POS and retail solutions to the communities hardest hit by the pandemic. Many of the businesses had to close down when the crisis first hit, but local support has steadily increased and we have gotten 15 different business up and running in the last several months. We can get through this if we support our neighborhoods and our local entrepreneurs.

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

The locally-sourced food movement gained momentum well before the pandemic struck, particularly in the more cosmopolitan areas such as NYC. For well over 10 years, the farm to table offerings has increased, especially in the independently owned community-based restaurants.

However, if anything, the pandemic has accelerated this even further, and the consumer demands for locally sourced fruits, vegetables and meats have extended well across the USA. With so much attention placed on health and wellness, conscious consumerism is alive and well, and we should expect the local farmers markets to continue to thrive during and after the pandemic.

Local independent grocery stores have dedicated even more space for farmers, butchers, and crafts. The smaller and larger stores should accurately reflect the communities they serve.

Kai Clarke
BrainTrust

The pandemic has forced people and retailers to support their local community. This embraces local food movements as they adapt and thrive in communities around the nation.

Michelle Collins
Guest

Yes. Consumers are more in tune and interested in what and how every product is sourced, transported and produced. The pandemic has heightened the industry of wellness and sustainability. For consumers, locally sourced foods is especially important to sustainability in terms of environment and cost. The direct-consumer and direct-producer is part of the cultural shift in experiences across retail and thus, impacts this sector.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Locally produced foods have long been a staple for the cooperative grocery movement. In my opinion, this part of a bigger trend towards sustainability more than anything else."
"Local farmer’s markets were jump-started by the desire to shop outdoors last summer."
"I have seen a major uptick in local food choices in my work with the Boston Main Streets Foundation where I am on the board of directors."

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