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Local food movement means opportunities for retailers: report

A report explores how independents can differentiate themselves by showcasing local food in store

Consumers’ ongoing interest in buying food that’s produced locally presents challenges and opportunities for Canada’s food industry, says the latest report from the Conference Board of Canada’s Centre for Food in Canada.

The report, Cultivating Opportunities: Canada’s Growing Appetite for Local Food, defines local food as food that is grown, processed, sold and consumed within the local area, whether a community, region or a province.

No longer considered a fad, the local food movement has been around for about 10 years already and is particularly strong in Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia.

In fact, the majority of Canadians indicate at least some desire to purchase local food because they want to support their local economy because they believe that local food – especially produce – is fresher, more environmentally-friendly and even healthier than non-local food.

Large retailers such as Loblaw, Metro, Safeway and Sobeys have jumped on the “buy local” bandwagon despite logistical barriers related to the grocery distribution system.

As the report points out, large retailers’ consolidated buying practices create a challenge for dealing with numerous small scale producers and to source sufficient volume to supply many stores. But innovative strategies such as Loblaw’s “Grown Close to Home” campaign are making it work.

Jessica Edge, a research associate at the Conference Board and author of the report, notes that smaller retailers don’t require the same large volumes of product as large retailers so it can be easier for them to utilize small- and medium-sized producers as suppliers. “However,” she says, “it can be time-consuming (in terms of sourcing, co-ordinating deliveries, etc.) for a smaller retailer to rely on a large number of small and medium-sized producers.”

Still, by showcasing local food in their stores, smaller grocers and independent retailers can differentiate themselves in a competitive landscape, Edge adds. “To take advantage of the local food trend, smaller retailers can communicate the 'story' of their local products by providing information about the farmer who produced the food and where the food was produced.”

Edge suggests the following strategies for smaller retailers to promote local food: ensure in-store signage and advertising communicates the provenance of local food; educate staff about the attributes and origins of local products; and invite local producers into their stores to introduce their products to consumers.

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