U.S. consumers’ interest in local food grows

February 6, 2013

The local food movement is spreading—from rural farm market stands to supermarket shelves. It’s little surprise then that large grocery chains and big-box retailers worldwide have begun to take notice, as more shoppers are willing to pay a premium for local food—seeing it as better-tasting, more trustworthy, and more sustainable. A.T. Kearney recently conducted research to determine how grocery shoppers make their decisions about buying local versus non-local food and to examine the strengths and weaknesses of large grocery retailers compared to other formats when it comes to local food.

The survey results emphasize the importance of local grocery for shoppers. Grocery shoppers largely embrace the increase in local food options because they believe it helps local economies (66%), delivers a broader and better assortment of products (60%), and provides healthier alternatives (45%). Some shoppers say they buy local food to improve the carbon footprint (19%) and increase natural or organic production (19%). When asked what “local” means to them, people have different opinions. Most (64%) consider food local if it is produced within a 100-mile radius of the store, while others (37%) consider products from the same state to be local.

The survey also found that consumers will switch stores for a better local food selection. Almost 30% of grocery shoppers say they consider purchasing food elsewhere if their preferred store does not carry local foods. When asked about the availability of local food at their preferred supermarket, 65% say their supermarket offers at least some kind of locally sourced food. Only 5% indicate they shop for local food at big-box retailers, and 15% at national supermarkets. Respondents say their main source for local food is still the local farmers market and farm stores.

In part, this is because shoppers don’t trust national and big-box retailers for locally sourced food. While most people say they shop primarily at big-box or national supermarkets—where they can get all of their shopping done in one stop—they trust these retailers least when it comes to local food. When asked about the trustworthiness of the different formats to deliver local food safely, farmers markets and farm stores rank first, followed by natural foods supermarkets, and locally-owned supermarkets. When it comes to local foods, national supermarkets and big-box retailers are less trustworthy, ahead of online grocers, which rank last. Clearly, large supermarkets have work to do to build customer trust when it comes to selling local food, particularly regarding stores’ definition of the term local.

Grocery shoppers are generally inclined to buy locally grown fruits and vegetables but often do not do so because the products are simply not available (57%), local food is too expensive to buy regularly (37%), or because the selection is just not very good (31%). Interestingly, quality is not an issue as local foods are perceived as fresher than foods shipped in from many miles. Many respondents say they would spend more on local groceries if retailers did a better job educating customers about the food’s origin (41%) and the products were more prominently displayed in store (39%).