Consumers Value “Locally Sourced” Food Despite Difficulties Defining

US - New research confirms that interest in locally sourced foods is taking hold among consumers who equate “local” with “fresh” and “healthier” and who want to support their local economy.
calendar icon 6 May 2013
clock icon 3 minute read

Yet definitions of “local” vary widely by age group and were found to encompass national brands, according to a survey commissioned by food industry marketing company Charleston|Orwig.

In the recent survey, consumers indicated that a national brand can be considered “locally sourced” based on where its growers/products are located (63 per cent). Nearly that many, 58 per cent , believe a national brand is “locally sourced” when it uses local sources for ingredients and products. About half of the restaurant operators surveyed agreed with both statements, at 55 per cent and 45 per cent .

Both consumers and operators said a brand can be considered locally sourced because units/sales help the local economy (27 per cent and 19 per cent). On the other hand, 21 per cent of operators and 17 per cent of consumers say a national brand can never be considered locally sourced.

When asked to define “locally sourced,” a majority of consumers responded “food or products from within their state.” Younger consumers, however, defined “local” as much closer to home, within five to 10 miles.

The new survey was inspired by 2012 Charleston|Orwig-sponsored research that found a majority of consumers had recently purchased locally sourced food. Interestingly, “local” was a more important consideration than “organic” and was cited as a key driver of “sustainability,” according to consumers surveyed last fall.

“It seems locally sourced is gaining ground around the country and certainly is a frequent topic among our clients and friends in the food industry,” said Mark Gale, Charleston|Orwig partner and chief executive officer. “We thought it was important to dig deeper into this trend and the insights from last year’s research.”

Safety First

The 2013 survey compared priorities between locally sourced food and brand, convenience, availability and cost. Datassential led the research, which surveyed more than 2,700 consumers and 300-plus restaurant and food-service operators.

As much as both consumers and operators value locally sourced, they identify significant hurdles to purchasing and offering local items including short growing seasons that limit stocks of fresh produce, price, and quality and safety concerns. Both groups agree that food safety is more important than locally sourced, with operators showing particular concern about food safety.

“The research suggests an opportunity for national brands to support chain and franchisee efforts to source some ingredients locally,” said Gale. “And national brands can source locally to appeal to consumers and operators who see the benefits of locally sourced, but are concerned about safety and availability.”

Gale noted that addressing locally sourced concerns is important for brands: one-third of consumers and one-quarter of operators in the Charleston|Orwig survey identified themselves as brand loyal. Half of consumers and two-thirds of operators said they are “somewhat” brand loyal.

The research further noted a correlation between retail purchases of locally sourced and demand for local foods when dining out. Nearly 50 per cent of the consumers surveyed by Datassential who “always” or “usually” purchase locally sourced foods for home use, also order local foods when eating out. But finding local items on restaurant menus may be difficult because nearly 60 per cent of operators surveyed indicated they do not include locally sourced or farm-identified items on menus because of seasonal availability and cost issues or safety concerns.

Fine and casual dining operators are most likely to offer local or farm-identified items, indicating an opportunity for quick-serve and midscale restaurants to address demand for locally sourced foods, Gale said.

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