New Report: Many Supermarkets in N.C. Letting Locally-Grown Food Slip Away
In its second ranking report, Local Organic Y’All rated nineteen supermarket companies for their local and organic performance; Whole Foods Market again topped the ratings. Overall, while organic foods were more widely available, local foods were often hard to find.
February 27, 2018
Media contact: Fred Broadwell, 919.943.1068
DURHAM, NC — Local Organic Y’All, a North Carolina-based independent food advocacy group, announced today the release of its new report, “Losing Local: The Unfulfilled Promise of Local Food in North Carolina Supermarkets.” A follow-up to its 2016 study, “Many Miles To Go: Locally-Grown Organics in North Carolina Supermarkets,” the new report found drift, not progress, in efforts by stores to source and supply more locally-grown produce, meat, milk and eggs.
“While North Carolinians are as eager as ever for local foods, most supermarket chains are not willing or able to source and sell much that is local. As in 2016, we are eating food grown in California, Canada, Mexico and Europe, even when that same product is growing gangbusters within the state,” said report author and Local Organic Y’All Director Fred Broadwell. “We lose freshness and we lose all the many benefits of local and regional food production. Supermarkets need to do a better job partnering on solutions to the complex supply problems.”
The report noted that the supermarket industry in North Carolina is intensely competitive. New arrivals like Publix, Lidl and Sprouts Farmers Market are putting considerable pressure on retailers, along with online sales and the recent Amazon acquisition of Whole Foods Market.
The report did uncover some encouraging findings. The most local-friendly supermarkets were continuing to source locally and some were doing an excellent job marketing that product. Whole Foods Market scored highest in the ratings. Their years of engagement with and support of local farmers and food businesses helped them source a great deal of product. North Carolina-based Ingles and Lowes Foods continued to partner with local groups and work on supply issues. Kroger/Harris Teeter announced new local initiatives and excelled at marketing. Food Lion continued its steady progress on local and exemplified transparency. Walmart also continued to make strides in the right direction, with positive results.
“While the top six supermarkets in our ratings are to be praised for their ongoing work, we were quite disappointed by the performance of some other chains. You would expect that grocers like Earth Fare, The Fresh Market, Sprouts and Publix would have stronger programs in place. These premium brands are under-performing for their local-loving customers.“
Unlike in 2016, when “local” was the hottest trend in grocery, in 2017 and 2018, “healthy” is emerging as the major driver for shoppers. This trend boosts the sales of fruits and vegetables, and organics, but does not always lead to higher demand for local, even though local food is generally fresher and healthier. More consumer education is needed to convince shoppers of all the benefits of local, including the health aspects.
On the supply and distribution side, technology may be finally coming to the rescue. Said Broadwell, “Supermarkets are beginning to employ internet-based technologies like blockchain to track food more carefully. This could lead to much more transparent supply chains. In other words, the supermarket and the shopper could seamlessly know that the bunch of carrots on the store shelf was harvested three days ago at a farm forty miles away.” Block chain is a cousin of bitcoin and is taking off as an inventory tool in the food world, spurred on by companies like FoodLogiQ based in Durham.
In addition to technology, investment in food processing, food distribution hubs and young farmer training is still strongly needed. The report found that supermarkets are investing very little into such projects and programs. “The food movement would like to see the grocery industry step up as partners to rebuild our local and regional food infrastructure,” said Broadwell.
“With positive action and partnership, North Carolina is poised to create much stronger regional food systems, thus saving farmland, boosting rural communities and bringing more delicious fresh food to the tables of average people,” commented Broadwell. “Everybody deserves the splendor of our local harvest, not just those who can make it to a Saturday farmers market,” Broadwell concluded.
The full report with key findings, recommendations, store ratings and company profiles is available at the Local Organic Y’All website: www.localorganicyall.org
Local Organic Y’All is a North Carolina-based non-profit advocacy project under the umbrella of the Abundance Foundation. Its mission is to increase access to and the benefits of locally-grown organic food by engaging with mainstream supermarkets and wholesalers in North Carolina. The project accepts no corporate or government funding. It is advised by a group of farmers, chefs, food activists and food entrepreneurs.