We can get fresh, locally-grown organic food to more people when more supermarkets and wholesalers get on board with the food movement. Can that really happen?
9/21/17: We've been at this now for about three years and some things are becoming clear. Local farmers are getting better and better at growing great produce year round. Farmers markets are offering amazing local variety. We can grow a lot of our food here. And mostly affluent farmers markets shoppers are getting access to it.
At the supermarket, where your average Joe shops, organic is growing strong, even at discount stores. But, as we should have predicted, supermarket organic and, for that matter, almost all supermarket produce, is still coming from far, far away. Supermarket interest in local seems to have faded to half-hearted at best (with a few exceptions.) Signage is becoming more haphazard and sparse. Investment in local food infrastructure has not happened -- yet.
So what to do? Why is this happening? There are two basic problems. The supply of local produce is still too small to make it into the mega-supply chains of supermarkets. It is still too hard for supermarkets to find, procure, transport and track the local product, or at least they think it is. At the same time, unlike with organic, shoppers are not demanding (which mostly means "buying") higher priced or less standard local products. These are the twin challenges.
This is all happening in the midst of intense competition in the grocery industry, including the arrival of discounter Lidl and the Amazon-Whole Foods deal. To make matters even more complicated for grocers, despite the food movement's popularity, home cooking is increasingly being pushed out by convenience foods and eating out. Grocery stores are becoming restaurants. No wonder they are struggling with the local sourcing challenge.
This project is an attempt to understand the largest players in the North Carolina food distribution system. This includes the supermarkets who sell billions of dollars worth of food each year and the wholesalers who sell to our local restaurants, schools and institutions. Are the big players using best practices to support local organic foods? Can they commit resources to be a part of the local food solution? What are they up to?
To discover what we've learned so far and what we specifically want to see happen, check out our 2016 report (link above), forthcoming 2017 update and the rest of the website.