Supermarkets in North Carolina Show Widely Divergent Commitments to Local Organic Food, with Most Failing on Key Criteria
Local Organic Y’All ranked sixteen supermarket companies operating in North Carolina; Whole Foods Market topped ratings with strong in-store performance and community engagement. Lowes Foods and Ingles, both NC-based, followed in second and third place.
November 21, 2016
MEDIA CONTACT: Fred Broadwell 919.943.1068 email@example.com
DURHAM, NC — Local Organic Y’All, a North Carolina-based independent food advocacy group, announced today the release of a report with findings from its two year study of supermarket sourcing and marketing. The report, “Many Miles To Go: Locally-Grown Organics in North Carolina Supermarkets,” found that most supermarkets operating in the state are failing to offer organic produce that is grown locally.
Produce of any kind that was identifiably local was difficult to find in many N.C. supermarkets. With Thanksgiving less than a week away and many North Carolinians thinking about where their food harvest comes from, the report is a troubling reminder that the food movement has yet to reach much beyond farmers markets and into mainstream food retail where the typical Tar Heel resident shops.
“We were disappointed to find so little locally-grown organic items at our supermarkets, with the potential for so much organic food to be grown in the state and with so many stores touting their support of local,” said Fred Broadwell, Project Director at Local Organic Y’All and lead author of the report. “We saw California and Florida organic product on store shelves, even when those products were at their peak season in North Carolina. This is partly due to the impact of big box and discount retail formats, which makes local sourcing difficult. But traditional full-service supermarkets are also struggling.”
The research noted the lack of a clear definition of local, which can lead to inflated claims. Regarding the growing demand for pasture-raised and humanely-raised eggs, dairy and meat, the study found a small amount of local product on store shelves.
There was some encouraging news. “At one food co-op, we found forty varieties of organic produce on a single visit,” commented Broadwell. “North Carolina now has the knowledge and certainly has the climate to grow an amazing variety of food.” Organic vegetables are being grown year round in the state, through low-tech season extension techniques and without heated greenhouses. Volume is increasing, with larger organic growers in place. And North Carolina boasts a growing set of local food wholesalers and processors, including companies like Eastern Carolina Organics (ECO), New Sprout Organic Farms, Firsthand Foods and Seal the Season.
The report found that a few supermarkets were offering much more local product than others. Whole Foods Market and Lowes Foods stood out in both produce and dairy/eggs/meat. Not surprisingly, these are grocery chains which have been deeply engaged with local food and farming groups, and with local procurement programs. Whole Foods Market has been working for years to enhance store offerings, and support growers and resource groups in the state. Lowes Foods has partnered with the university-based NC Growing Together to get more local product in its stores. Harris Teeter, Food Lion, Ingles and The Fresh Market had somewhat more local produce on store shelves than the typical chain, while Earth Fare did better in meat.
In the course of the study, several chains communicated with the project, pledging to increase local sourcing. Lowes Foods, Walmart, BI-LO and Kroger have begun dialogue with Local Organic Y’All. Kroger, for example, has pledged to send in an experienced buyer to explore new sources of local organic product and Walmart just pledged to double local produce sales nationwide.
The study found that the retail food industry as a whole is well aware of increasing demand for healthy, natural, organic and local foods. However, after years of decline, local food infrastructure is not in place to move enough product to market. It has simply been easier for supermarkets to source all their carrots or salad mix, for instance, from one grower in California than to create relations in local markets.
Solutions to the problem are complex. Said Broadwell, “Supermarkets will need to decentralize some internal systems, train staff and adopt new technologies. They will need to start and expand partnerships with local growers and NC-based wholesalers and distributors, and invest capital in local food infrastructure like food hubs and young farmer training. “ If those actions happen, North Carolinians can see their food miles decrease, supporting our farmers, saving farmland, and increasing food transparency. “Let’s support supermarkets moving in the right direction,” Broadwell concluded.
The full report with key findings, recommendations, store rankings and company profiles is available at the Local Organic Y’All website: www.localorganicyall.org
1. Whole Foods Market (72 points of 100)
2. Lowes Foods (59)
3. Ingles (44)
4. Harris Teeter* (28)
5. Earth Fare (26)
6. Food Lion (23)
7. Walmart (21)
8. BI-LO (20)
9. Kroger (14)
10. Piggly-Wiggly (11)
11. Costco (8)
12. The Fresh Market (8)
13. Publix (7)
14. Aldi (6)
15. Trader Joe’s (5)
16. Target (4)
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.