Locally Grown: I Love It But Do I Need It?

Locally Grown: I Love It But Do I Need It?

Food & Drink

Locally Grown: I Love It But Do I Need It?


 David Engel
 David Engel

Now that Wal-Mart has proclaimed it will offer more locally grown products to meet consumer needs, it may be time for your foodservice operation to consider exactly what locally grown means and how it can be used to a competitive advantage. We are all aware of the “trend” but, much like organic a few years ago, locally grown has no specific standard of identity, and similar to organic, it seems many chefs and menu developers want to lob it into marketing and menu development efforts without a basis in strategy.

A USA TODAY poll highlighted the differences in definition and how consumers define, local product:

• Within 100 miles: 50%
• Within my state: 37%
• Within a region, i.e.: New England: 4%
• In the USA: 4%

Despite these differences in definition, many restaurant operators intuitively understand guests feel better about our purchases if marketed and merchandised as locally grown.

For example, I recently ate dinner in Chicago at The Girl and The Goat, Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard’s restaurant.  Her restaurant features several unique cheeses, (all merchandised on their own tasting menu) which come from Prairie Fruit’s Farm in Champaign, Illinois.  Our server was extremely knowledgeable about the sourcing, and I also found an enjoyable tale about Ms. Izard’s trip to the farm on her website, www.stephenieizard.com, that I read prior to my dinner. All of the elements-the food, menu, server, and web story-wove together to support the brand equity in locally grown.  Without all these elements, like so many failed brand tactics, any individual tactic would have seemed like jumping on the “locally grown” bandwagon but together they were leveraged powerfully and told a compelling story.

Another excellent example of leveraging locally grown is Park Side 23, a new Milwaukee restaurant.  PS 23 features an actual farm on the grounds of the restaurant that supplies many of the herbs and vegetables to the kitchen year-round, even in the harsh Wisconsin winter, thanks to a specially-designed green house.  In addition one of the key staff positions will be the Community Farm Manager, an employee dedicated to managing the farm.  In terms of commitment to locally grown, it’s a bold step to develop a position like this rather than simply relying on the chef to source local markets daily.

The previous two examples spotlight restaurants using ingredients that are very close geographically, but what about products that are more regional in basis yet still deliver a powerful locally grown impression?  Tillamook cheese built a powerful regional brand that started with a very good product and always gave consumers a sense of buying locally, with local being defined as the Northwest United States.  It is important to note that local is often times, correctly or incorrectly, considered superior in quality. In the case of Tillamook, this consumer belief continues despite wide distribution across the country.  

And of course, it seems everyone had an older sibling clad in flannel that returned from spring break in Colorado in the 70’s humming “Annie’s Song” with a case of Coors because it was a local product that you could not get back home.

So does your organization move forward with a locally grown effort?  Maybe.  It certainly merits discussion but not a knee-jerk response.  Like all possible new marketing or new menu development tactics, the answers to the following questions may help guide your decision by evaluating the strategic fit, consumer fit and brand fit:

  • Does this idea address one or more of the Strategic Growth Roles your company has identified?
  • To what extent does this idea intensely solve a problem addressed by the consumer?
  • To what extent does this idea enhance the experience of the consumer?
  • To what extent will the consumer take action because of this idea?
  • Do you have data to support our positioning and selling story?
  • To what extent is the consumer willing to pay a price premium?
  • Does it make sense for your brand and/or menu?
  • Does it build on items already on the menu or in the portfolio?

This list is by no means exhaustive (sourcing and cost issues immediately come to mind as well) but should provide an excellent basis for a beginning discussion.  I have found that www.localharvest.org is a useful online tool for beginning to understand locally grown food and stay current on available products.


About David Engel Innovation

David Engel is a food marketing professional with more than 20 years of chain, agency and manufacturing experience.  One of his company’s core competencies is brainstorming/ideating and developing new products and menu items.  He is also the co-author of Putt More Butts In Seats, a guide to restaurant marketing. He can be reached at david.engel@rocketmail.com.


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