The Disconnect Between Marketing Of Local And Sales Of Local And The Necessity For Promoting What We Actually Sell
Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, January 22, 2013
An attendee at the recent New York Produce Show and Conference sent us this note regarding a discussion we had on stage with a baker’s dozen of industry "thought-leaders":
Craig is astute in noting that actual produce sales have not in any way tracked the hype related to “local.” In fact, how could they? Unless consumers were to decide to forgo bananas, winter fruit, citrus, avocados, etc., they could not, in much of the country, possibly become true locavores.
Indeed many of the proclamations made by retailers as to their local sales are questionable. We joked here that Wal-Mart, which defines local as “in state,” could increase its local sales simply by opening more stores in California.
One very progressive retailer told us that many get confused between marketing and sales. His chain is promoting local very aggressively, but sales are not significantly higher than they had been before these marketing efforts.
Indeed this may be the crux of the issue regarding Craig’s concern. We may need to distinguish between procurement or sales trends and marketing trends.
That retailers are focused on local as a marketing tool is not really subject to dispute. Even all this attention to rooftop greenhouses, etc., are mostly undertaken with the idea of positioning a store as hyper-local.
On the foodservice end, white table-cloth chefs also like to promote local, the idea being that the chef has some special connection with the local farmer and has added value by vetting his produce.
We wouldn’t say that the “Thought Leader” panel reached any conclusions on local. It was more a matter of sharing ideas on how retailers could capitalize on the marketing craze surrounding local.
Certainly, overall, The New York Produce Show and Conference was committed to the entire supply chain. In fact, the day before that breakfast panel, the event featured The Global Trade Symposium. This annual event is dedicated to the proposition that this is a global industry. You can take a look at the 2012 agenda here and the 2011 agenda here and see that we spent a full day exploring the intricacies of global trade.
This being said, we do think that Craig is posing a key question: Are retailers doing enough to communicate how proud they are of their non-local produce?
Greg Drescher, Vice President Strategic Initiatives & Industry Leadership at the Culinary Institute of America, is fond of telling a story: Harvard’s dining program came out with a brochure lauding its operation. The vast majority of the brochure was focused on Harvard’s very aggressive locally grown program. Of course, no matter how aggressive a program, there just isn’t that much produce grown locally to Cambridge, Massachusetts, and, as a school, the population drops during the summer when a lot of that local product is available. So local simply can’t account for a very high percentage of Harvard’s usage of fresh produce.
So the question Greg posed was whether or not Harvard dining was as proud of the vast majority of its purchases, which are not locally grown, as it is of its local program.
This is a fair question for all retailers. There is now a lot of research that indicates that the meaning of “locally grown” varies quite a bit from a straight geographical interpretation. For example, in many cases, the interpretation may be political — one’s own state or country. Craig also points to the “locale” vs “local” argument, and there is a lot of indication that consumers want to know substantive things about where their food comes from — not just where the food is grown but how and by whom.
There are a lot of retailers who will hang photos of local farmers and descriptive information about the family and the farm. There is little reason to believe that consumers won’t value similar information about family farmers, properly tending their land, from all over the world.
Promoting local is fine, but what Craig is really asking is what about promoting the vast majority of produce that is actually in the stores? In the end, if we don’t promote what we are actually selling, we will one day be accused of being disingenuous. So retailers need to focus on being as proud of all their produce as they are of their locally grown programs, and then they need to start thinking about how to educate their consumers as to the fine quality of this product as well.
Many thanks to Craig, Account and Category Manager of Jac Vandenberg, Inc. for weighing in on this important issue.