While specialty food manufacturers, distributors and retailers may disagree on what the most influential product claims are currently, they all concur that over the next three years products with “local” claims will grow the most.
While specialty food manufacturers, distributors and retailers may disagree on what the most influential product claims are currently, they all concur that over the next three years products with “local” claims will grow the most. That is one of the findings from the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR THE SPECIALTY FOOD TRADE’s 2012 State of The Industry Report reports The Food Institute this week. And while the definition of local is sometime questions, NASFT defined it as being within a 200-mile distance from the operator.
Surveyed retailers, who are on the front line with consumers, are the most ardent in their position, with two-thirds expecting local claims to grow the most over the next three years, and nearly three-quarters saying local claims interest consumers the most right now. Distributors and manufacturers are not far behind, however, with 60% and 56%, respectively seeing local claims growing the most through 2014.
NASFT also notes that manufacturers say specialty food stores and natural supermarkets are the fastest growing retail channels for specialty food and estimates that total specialty food sales last year reached a record-high $75.214 billion, with 80% ($59.7 billion) coming from sales at retail.
The trend towards buying local has been underway for the past decade notes the Food Institute. Besides helping the “little guy,” consumers are increasingly buying local foods because they perceive its quality to be higher, according to Consumer Understanding of Buying Local, a webinar hosted by the FOOD INSTITUTE and THE HARTMAN GROUP back in 2008 – but which is still pertinent to the local food movement today.
Local foods are considered by many to be part of the redefinition of quality, which includes other segments of the industry, namely natural, organic and fresh foods. Consumers are buying local foods because they feel it supports their community, thus preserving their values. More importantly, consumers feel local foods are of a higher quality than the traditional “processed” or “junk” foods, and thus are willing to spend more for it.
Meanwhile, consumer perceptions of what defines local remains largely varied. While some define it as a specific taste, others view it as a region or a small producer. Retailers have an opportunity to tell a story about an item and point toward new quality distinctions. For instance, less-common vegetables could be tagged with origins information, taste profiles and use guidelines, in a narrative format.
In addition, many consumers are currently buying local, but there is significant room for local market growth as they increase the frequency and quantity of local purchases. Retailers can promote the appearance of their local variety by remembering that a large aspect of “buying local” lies in the notion customers are supporting the social fabric (farmers, producers, artisans) of their community or region. For the future, retailers and local producers must remember that a local product’s image is just as important as the product itself.
To purchase a recording of Consumer Understanding of Buying Local, visit www.foodinstitute.com/buyinglocal.cfm.