With the warm weather so early in the spring, gardeners and farmers have started their seeds and the local farmers markets will soon be popping up around the community. Local food vendors may have something to look forward to this year. In a survey done by Mintel, 52% of respondents said that it was more important they buy local than organic. Mintel concluded that as consumers become more interested in where their food comes from, retailers will focus on American regionalism. The local food movement is not new. Farmers markets almost doubled between 1994 and 2009 and the USDA estimated the local food market to have $4.8 billion in sales in 2008.
Local food has not escaped the attention of academia. In early 2010, Choices Magazine had an entire theme focused on Local Food - Perceptions, Prospects, and Policies. In one of the articles, Local Food Consumers: How Motivations and Perceptions Translate to Buying Behavior, Yuko Onozaka, Gretchen Nurse, and Dawn Thilmany McFadden delve into why consumers purchase local food and in which venue they choose to shop. The authors found that more people (82%) said they had bought locally grown produce than had bought organic produce (50%). While local food has no formal definition, over 70% of survey respondents considered food grown within a 50-mile radius to be local.
The first part of the study focused on what consumers think of local food. The authors found the highest percentage of consumers assigned importance to 'proven health benefits' when shopping for local foods. The next 3 most important factors were 'supporting the local economy,' 'farmers receiving fair share of economic returns,' and 'maintaining local farmland.' They also found that most consumers felt local produce was superior in terms of 'freshness,' 'eating quality,' and 'nutritional value.' In addition, consumers perceived that local food helped the local economy more and provided fairer returns to farmers than its non-local counterpart.
In the second part of the study, the authors looked at whether consumer perceptions motivated where people shopped and if consumers believed their actions had an effect on the food system. The study found shoppers who want to support their local community, purchase food through farmers markets and direct farm purchases, while those concerned with environmental impact and pesticide use shop, at natural food stores. Perhaps one of the most interesting findings from the study is people who shop at farmers markets and through direct farm purchases, report a stronger belief their actions matter. They also report the opinion of the people in their life matters more in their purchasing decisions. Those that shopped at natural food stores believed their actions mattered more than those who shopped at supermarkets, but less than those who shopped at direct markets. The authors close by saying that since local and direct food buyers have a relatively high concern for the environment, "policies to support local and direct markets seem complementary to efforts to preserve farmland and reinvigorate local economies."