Is local the new organic?

by Monica Watrous
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Local foods are growing strong.

ROCKVILLE, MD. — Locally grown and produced foods are expected to outpace total retail food and beverage sales over the next five years to reach $20 billion in 2019, according to Packaged Facts, Rockville.

Local foods generated an estimated $12 billion in sales in 2014, accounting for 2% of total U.S. retail food and beverage sales.

“We’ve reached a tipping point for local foods,” said David Sprinkle, research director for Packaged Facts. “Over the past 10 years, there has been a surge in consumer demand for locally produced foods, along with widening availability.”

More than half of consumers seek out locally produced foods, according to a Packaged Facts survey, and almost half are willing to pay up to 10% more for such items. One in three would pay up to 25% more, and a third of consumers also claimed to consciously purchase local foods at least once a week.

Most shoppers perceive locally grown or produced foods as fresher, Packaged Facts said. More than half buy local products to support small businesses, and more than 40% said the products taste better. Furthermore, about a third believe local products are healthier. Transparency is top of mind with many local food consumers.

No longer limited to farmers markets and natural food stores, locally grown and produced foods are now popping up in larger grocers.

“Even Wal-Mart has been promoting local farmers in its bid to tailor its store selections more toward local communities,” Mr. Sprinkle said.

Additionally, Kroger has partnered with local startups and farmers to sell local and regional products where available.

Locally grown and produced foods are appearing in more restaurants, too. Last year, Chipotle Mexican Grill committed to serving more than 20 million lbs of locally grown produce in its restaurants, up from its goal of 15 million lbs in 2013. Locally sourced protein and produce top the list of menu trends to watch in 2015, according to the National Restaurant Association’s annual What’s Hot culinary trends forecast.
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