Buying Local Produce Can Boost Profits for Chefs and Growers, NU Survey Shows

Market researchers at the university's Food Processing Center surveyed members of the Chefs Collaborative, a national network of food service professionals that promotes sustainable cuisine by using local, seasonal and specialty ingredients.  The poll targeted those primarily responsible for food purchases at their establishments, mostly chefs.

Nearly three-fourths of the respondents agreed that buying locally grown food products can be profitable for food service establishments.  When it comes to purchasing, 57 percent would prefer to buy direct from a farmer.

Results offer information growers can tap to better market their products to restaurants and institutions, said Brad Zumwalt, a food industry consultant at the Food Processing Center who led the survey.

"The survey results will help producers market their products to the food service industry by examining the opportunities and obstacles produe4s may encounter when approaching a restaurant or institution with locally grown products," he said.

This is one of numerous market-related surveys conducted as part of the North Central Initiative for Small Farm Profitability, a four-state, grant-funded effort headed by an NU Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources team.  The initiative aims to improve the profitability and competitiveness of the region's small and mi sized farms and ranches.

The survey also revealed attributes that food service establishments rank as very to extremely important in purchasing decisions.  These include: product quality, taste and freshness; knowledge of how a product is raised or grown; the ability to guarantee consistent quality; strict adherence to food safety; a thorough knowledge of the producer's product and its uses; and the ability to deliver the quantity the establishment requires.

The poll identified specific reasons for buying locally grown food and actors that motivate chefs to continue buying from local farmers and ranchers.  Leading reasons included: locally grown foods have higher or better quality and are fresher; positive relationships with producers; customer requests for local products, especially after carrying local foods for a period of time; and the availability of unique or specialty products.

The survey also identified obstacles to purchasing locally grown food.  Specifically, 43 percent of respondents agreed distribution and delivery - getting the right product in the right quantity to the right place at the right time - were drawbacks.

In addition, 38 percent said they would buy more locally grown food f local products were more readily available; a third would increase their locally grown purchases if a larger variety were available.

"The data suggests that there is a real need for a clearinghouse or database of locally grown products to provide ample and easy access for interested food service or retail personnel," Zumwalt said in the report.  Although not in any future plans, he said a clearinghouse could help a restaurant or institution find backup sources for products when the current purveyor's supply is limited.

Only 11 percent of respondents identified seasonality as an obstacle.  That might indicate the establishments surveyed already offer seasonal menus featuring locally grown foods in season, Zumwalt said.

Ninety percent of the food service establishments surveyed promote the use of locally grown food on their menu or in promotional material at some time and 49 percent of those who promote local food considered the promotion very effective.

The survey was mailed and e-0mailed to 383 food service establishments nationwide.  There were 113 responses for a 30 percent response rate.  While findings offer guidance and insights for growers about how best to approach independent food service operations, specific results are reflective only of the Chef's Collaborative organization, he said.

This and other food marketing and processing market research conducted for this initiative is available from Food Marketing and Processing.  The report can be downloaded free at  Hard copies are available for a small charge.  To purchase a copy, contact Brad Zumwalt at (402) 472-0896.

This research was conducted in cooperation with NU's Cooperative Extension and Agricultural Research Division, and is funded by a three-year USDA grant.  Brad Zumwalt, Food Processing Center, Food Industry Consultant.


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