Choosing Local is Becoming Easier
These products all use a locally made call out to gain consumer trust.
In 1996 when my husband Chef Martin Kouprie opened Pangaea Restaurant, farm-to-table was a concept he had to explain to customers. He was among the first cohort of Canadian fine dining chefs who cultivated relationships with farmers, foragers and artisan ingredient makers. These chefs seeded the adoption of the slow food movement in Canada by prompting diners to become more aware of the provenance of their food. Over the last 25-years, those seeds have matured and before COVID-19 decimated our restaurant culture and closed farmer’s markets, many food businesses were using “local” as a selling point.
Food companies such as Three Farmers demonstrate leadership in using local as a hook. Their strategy strives to make consumers feel confident about the quality of their products; their website is rich in detail about how their ingredients are grown and handled and all their packages bear a unique code that allows consumers to research how these roasted chickpea, lentil and pea products are made. Using the codes, chefs can even find guidance on how to highlight the local aspects of these products on their menus.
“Farm to Fork is a movement focused on connecting consumers with all stages of food production – from growing, to harvesting to processing to consuming,” says Natasha Vandenhurk, CEO of Three Farmers. “We strive to provide a true personal connection between our farmers and our customers. Rather than just making a claim on the label, we show our customers where their food came from and how it was turned into the product in their pantry.”
Since the pandemic, consumers are showing a strong commitment to supporting local businesses with 79.5% of Canadians saying that they would pay a premium for local food. Their enthusiasm is often rooted in emotion. Some shoppers want to avoid imported foods with opaque supply chains or that originate in countries they distrust; meanwhile other consumers are affected by news stories about local foods going unused and still others are motivated by an urge to support restaurateurs and makers struggling to stay in business amid COVID restrictions.
Those studying the market agree that now is the time to make it easier to purchase local products in-store and on-line. Leah Blechschmidt, a recent masters graduate from the University of Guelph aspires to disrupt the agri-tourism business with a start-up she is creating with the support of Accelerator Guelph. “Food will be a cornerstone of my business,” she says. “People want to know the face and the story behind their food. However, connecting consumers to farmers remains a challenge. We need ways for them to continue to be customers of artisan, locally sourced and produced products.”
Lifelong food business insider Andy Strub agrees. “Canadians enjoy supporting local food manufacturers and producers. Farmer’s markets were a great way to find local and artisanal products and some grocers have done a nice job at creating small niche sections within their stores, but it only scratches the surface of what is truly available.”
Strub’s opinion is backed by OMAFRA., Ontario’s agriculture and food department. He recently received funding from that agency to create an online local food marketplace to be called Shop Your Ontario that by June 2021 will be selling food products made in Ontario.
This isn’t Ontario’s only project designed to promote local businesses. In July the province launched Ontario Made, a program that allows manufacturers of all kinds to post their locally made products in an online directory. (The new program is similar to the longstanding Ailments du Quebec program but goes beyond food to include other locally produced goods.) All registrants receive free labels to affix to their packaging. By January 15th over 3,000 food and beverage products have been registered.
While local call outs are working in many provinces and nationally in Canada, this marketing strategy does have limitations, especially for bigger companies who aspire to launch their products internationally. But, for domestic sales plans, the maple leaf will definitely be the accessory of choice for food packages in 2021.
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By Dana McCauley