Business and Operations
The 100-Mile Bagel
November 5, 2007 By Michelle Brisebois
Eating responsibly puts new emphasis on local
Have the ingredients in your storage room seen more of the world than you have? Modern manufacturing and logistics allow us to have any food our hearts desire, any time of year, and at fairly reasonable prices. With every imported food item, there’s an economic price paid by our local economies – and an environmental one paid by our planet to transport these products. Eating local is “the new organic”, and it’s a trend sweeping across the food industry with gusto. Burrowing in our own patch is an easier sell in a Canadian summer, than it is in February, and one wonders if consumers will be willing to pay the price to buy and eat “locally” – both literally and figuratively.
The strongest trends are generally supported by many factors, and eating local is no exception. Food safety issues seems to be the tipping point that truly turned this niche lifestyle choice into a mainstream trend. When tainted U.S. spinach caused deaths and illness in consumers last year, it made us realize how susceptible
our food supply is to contaminants. Environmental issues are also a key driver of the “localvore” trend, as many proponents of eating food grown close at hand argue that not having to transport the food great distances saves on gas emissions, which contribute to the greenhouse effect. The term “food miles” (referring to how far food has traveled before you buy it) has become the new culinary buzzword. Environmental groups, especially in Europe, are pushing for labels that show how far food has traveled to get to the market.
Canadian studies estimate that “a basic North American meal travels 2,400 km from field to table – roughly the driving distance from Regina to Toronto.” Cathy Bartolic, executive administrator for the Ontario Farm Fresh Marketing Association, points out another factor in the “eat closer to home” trend. “It’s not only the amount of fuel consumed to transport the food, it’s also the ever-increasing cost of the fuel that’s making locally grown food more attractive,” confirms Bartolic. Eating locally is one way of supporting our home economies. It’s estimated that by buying food from local producers, 90 per cent of the food dollar is staying in the community. A Vancouver couple recently committed to eating only foods that had been grown within a 100-mile radius of their apartment. Their experiences during this time have been chronicled in their popular book, The 100-Mile Diet. While this way of eating did expose the authors to new culinary experiences, it wasn’t without its challenges. You see, wheat doesn’t grow within 100 miles of Vancouver. They eventually sourced a local wheat farm to make flour, but until they found this source, bread was off the menu. Eating locally takes commitment. Does the average consumer have the motivation to demand, and seek out local foods?
If the current traffic in the farmers’ market sector is any indication, it would seem that consumers are eager for locally grown products. “We’re seeing increased traffic at local farmers’ markets,” confirms Margaret Land, editor of Fruit and Vegetable Magazine. “The markets themselves are tightening up the restrictions regarding who may sell at some of these markets. Many vendors need to prove that they grew their products themselves, and aren’t simply re-selling produce purchased for re-sale.”
Many bakeries have a presence at local markets, and if you don’t it, may be a venue worth considering. “Some restaurants are featuring the names of local growers right on their menus,” says Cathy Bartolic. “In some operations, there may actually be a notation next to the menu item that says, ‘Cookstown Greens’.” Part of the localvore trend is driven by the consumer’s desire to have a story attached to their foods. Consumers want to
know where it was grown, and in what conditions. The wine industry refers to this as the terroir, which speaks to the type of soil in which the grape was grown – influencing the taste of the wine. The same perspective can apply to anything grown in soil, and here’s the key issue – this “story” adds value to what could be considered simply a commodity, and allows us to price it accordingly, perhaps at a slight premium.
Most consumers will probably consider a Canadian product a local product, so you won’t need to stick to the 100-mile rule. If you use local fruits in your pies and pastries, brag about it on an easel board on your sidewalk. Talk about the Niagara or Okanagan peaches in your turnovers, and use phrases like “made with Canadian wheat” in your signage, and on packaging stickers. The word-of-mouth buzz you get for having this item on your menu will likely prove to be well worth the effort. Don’t forget that local produce, greenhouse grown, is a viable alternative throughout the winter season. Eating local is trendy, environmentally friendly, safe and economically beneficial to our communities. It’s time to repatriate our meals.
Michelle Brisebois is a marketing professional with experience in the food, pharmaceutical and financial services industries. She specializes in helping companies grow their brands. Michelle can be reached at OnTrend Strategies by e-mail at: briseboismichelle@ sympatico.ca.
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