Bakers Journal

Features Business and Operations
Fresh Trends – Aug.Sept. 2010


August 18, 2010
By Michelle Brisebois

Topics

In 2007, the Oxford English Dictionary dubbed “locavore” its word of
the year. This term describes a style of food consumption centred on
products hailing from a local source.

In 2007, the Oxford English Dictionary dubbed “locavore” its word of the year. This term describes a style of food consumption centred on products hailing from a local source.

That same year, two journalists living in Vancouver – Alisa Smith and J. B. MacKinnon published a book about their efforts to eat only foods grown within a 100-mile radius of their home for an entire year. The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating  chronicled their trials and tribulations as they navigated their menu planning. One of the first surprises they encountered was the realization that pastas and breads were mainly made from wheat grown in parts of Western Canada, far outside their 100-mile radius.

As Smith and MacKinnon point out on their website, “It took us seven months to find a rogue local farmer who actually grows wheat.”

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This raises an interesting dilemma for the baking industry. If flour, the cornerstone of most baked goods, must travel great distances to get to bakeries for processing, is capitalizing on the “eat local” movement even possible for our industry?

The answer is “yes” because it’s not only about the food miles attached to an item. It seems that how one defines “local” is a very subjective and personal decision, and thus food makers can take many angles to target this trend. A Foodland Ontario study in 2009 revealed that freshness of food is the primary driver for consumers when choosing a locally produced option.
Support for local producers comes in second with positive environmental effects coming in third.

Freshness
The bakery industry is naturally linked to the notion that baked goods made onsite and served that day are fresher than those processed en masse and frozen for eventual sale at a supermarket chain. Foods grown and made “close to home” can be bred to focus on taste rather than withstanding the abuse of shipping or industrial harvesting.

So shine the light on other ingredients besides wheat flour. Your pies can feature fruit picked fresh off of the vine. According to the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Association, the average distance food travels from farm to plate is 1,500 miles. During this delay between harvest and consumption, sugars turn to starches, plant cells shrink and produce loses its vitality. You likely know all of this as a baker, but it’s important that you let your customers know not only when a product came out of your oven but also how fresh the ingredients are. Look for provincially focused organizations that have well-established brands you can tap into. “Saskatchewan Made” and “A Taste of Nova Scotia” are two such examples.

Supporting Local Producers
It’s comforting to be able to see who’s producing your food. Consumers like that link to the local producers – it gives them an emotional connection to their plates.

Terroir is a wine term that means the taste of the grapes gives one a “sense of place” – a sense of the soil, the wind, rain and sun. Some people believe that consuming locally grown foods that have been exposed to the elements and pollens of your area may actually have some kind of inoculating effect against allergies. Make sure you talk up the sense of place on your shelf signage, packaging and other communications efforts. If you can name the farmers who grow or produce your ingredients, that’s even better.

Positive Environmental Effects
Many consumers see buying locally as a way of reducing their carbon footprint. Food miles are a measure of the distance travelled from farm to fork. This is one measure of the environmental effects of one’s meal choices and it can have significant ramifications.

A 2007 article published in the Clearwater Times in British Columbia and the Peterborough Examiner in Ontario claims the average number of food miles for one kilogram of chocolate is 8,598 kilometres or 1.3 kilograms of greenhouse gas emissions. The 100-Mile Diet cites an example in which local salmon are sent far away to be deboned and then returned to the source for packaging and sale. The authors refer to this as “swimming upstream” to look beyond the surface in terms of defining what’s local. They ask whether the fresh eggs they get from a chicken are negatively affected by the great distance between the grain and the chicken that ate it.

If your baked goods are made on premises, you’ve already eliminated many food miles compared to a similar chain store product that has required more energy to package, freeze and transport. Why not take a stab at calculating the food miles of your bakery products? The website www.fallsbrookcentre.ca has a great calculator that allows you to easily estimate a product’s food miles.

Setting a standard by which to categorize foods that are “local” is too difficult because there are too many ways to define it. On the upside, this gives us flexibility to tell our product stories in ways that truly address those issues that are important to our customers. It’s fresh, it’s good stewardship and, ultimately, it allows us to craft a message that truly “hits home.”

Michelle Brisebois is a marketing professional with experience in the food, pharmaceutical and financial services industries. She specializes in helping companies grow their brands and can be reached at briseboismichelle@sympatico.ca.


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