During his lifetime, Massachusetts Congressman and Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill was famous for—among other things—his saying “all politics is local.” These days, all food is increasingly local.
Not that this is anything new. Until the Interstate highway system was built during the Eisenhower administration in the 1950s, America’s food systems were mostly locally-based. But, over the past six decades, as it became easier to quickly move food across the nation—and to ship it in from foreign countries—our food system has become a complex web where California tomatoes may show up in New England stores two or three days after being picked, even if it might have been easier to get them from New Jersey the same day.
Although there have been “local food” movements in the U.S. since the Great Depression and World War II, there’s been huge a resurgence of interest in local food systems over the past 10 years—so much so that even Time magazine did a cover story on eating local in 2007.
Why such interest in local foods? The reasons are myriad. For one, people are taking increasing interest in where their food comes from and how it’s produced. This is in part due to a desire to return to simpler times. It’s also due to a focus on healthier foods and outbreaks of foodborne illnesses such as E. coli or salmonella, which can quickly spread when affected foods are shipped cross-country. Then there’s the environmental factor and economics of shipping food over long distances. Although mass production may have driven down food costs, hauling it across the nation can be expensive when you consider fluctuating fuel prices and emissions.
And who can’t help but be more curious about local foods when more and more restaurant menus list the farms, dairies and producers where every item on the menu came from? This level of awareness from chefs carries over to their patrons, and with more people returning to farming as a way of life, city folks are supporting their communities through buying locally.
Finally, let’s face it, local foods just taste better. When produce, in particular, is picked the same day it’s sold, it’s fresher, it lasts longer, it retains more nutrients and the taste is amazing. There’s nothing worse than a tomato that’s been picked too early, never ripens and tastes mealy. Yuck.
Until recently, the local food movement consisted primarily of farmer’s markets, Community Supported Agriculture, or CSAs, and even school garden programs such as Alice Waters’ famous Edible Schoolyard Project. Urban gardening and cottage food laws, allowing local food purveyors to sell certain foods created in home kitchens, are also tied to the locavore movement.
As is to be expected in the Internet age, parts of this movement are also beginning to intersect with technology to enable everything from food delivery to locally sourced foods and even food hubs, where local goods are gathered and then dispersed regionally.
Online Grocery Delivery
Of course, grocery delivery services are not that new. Although Webvan famously tanked during the dot-com bust, online services such as Peapod, which delivers in the Northeast and Midwest, have been around since that time. On the West Coast, grocery chain Safeway also provides online ordering and same-day delivery.
What is new is tech companies like Amazon and Google getting into the mix. You can’t talk about any retail supply chain these days without mentioning the great up-ender of all retail systems, Amazon. With its Amazon Fresh service, the company has gotten into the delivery of perishables in addition to everything else under the sun. One feature of the Fresh service is making goods available from local artisans and restaurants. Last year, the company also introduced Amazon Dash, a barcode reader for home shoppers that allows them to scan the barcodes of household items and have them automatically added to their Fresh order. An Amazon Fresh app is also available. However, Fresh comes with a hefty price tag. The company received criticism last year for charging Prime Fresh users $299 per year for same day delivery—which is only free if the order is over $35.
Google’s Shopping Express also offers same-day delivery for goods picked up from local stores for quick delivery to patrons. The service sources from stores such as Whole Foods, Costco and Target. Users can order online or via a mobile app.
One part CSA, one part delivery service
New to the delivery scene are services such as Good Eggs and Farmigo, which cut out the retail middleman by working directly with local farmers, producers and artisans to sell goods to consumers online. Farmigo provides software for farmers to connect with CSA programs and helps them sell direct to consumers. Users pick up their produce, baked goods or meats at designated neighborhood pick-up spots. Good Eggs employs a similar model but also includes specialty packaged foods and pre-packaged meal kits from local producers. The service is available in the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, Brooklyn and New Orleans.
The term “food hub” can encompass any number of different things, but is usually a centrally-located facility where farmers can bring their food to either be sold or distributed locally or regionally. New England-based Red Tomato is a food hub that has honed in on logistics and the supply chain. The company works with farmers to aggregate products, which are then delivered either by other farmers, distributors or third-party logistics services, making sure that the foods can be sold fresh and within the region. For instance, the company works with a local grocery chain in Northern New Jersey on a program that guarantees produce displayed in the program were picked within 24 hours of arriving at the store. The store features a special display section of local produce delivered as part of the program.
If you’re a local food system startup, we’d love to hear from you. Bon Appétech Conference will be a great way to connect with industry stakeholders, large brands and influential decision makers. We are hosting a startup expo where entrepreneurs can showcase and launch new products, including new food traceability solutions. More information available at www.bonappetech.com.
Post image copyright 2008 by Marc Smith. See full license for use.