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Food retailers urged to think local

Wednesday, 19 January 2011 | By Michelle Hammond

Small food retailers are being urged to source and promote more local produce, with research revealing more Australians are choosing to purchase locally-produced products.

 

According to market research agency Datamonitor, 33% of Australians are buying locally-produced food either ‘most of the time’ or ‘all of the time’ compared to 26% in 2009.

 

Datamonitor consumer markets analyst Katrina Diamonon says locally made food and drink “resonates strongly” with Australians.

 

“Not only as they support local communities but because they are often perceived to be fresher and superior in quality,” Diamonon says.

 

According to Datamonitor lead consumer analyst Daniel Bone, small food retailers are in a better position than larger retailers to promote their produce as local.

 

“There’s a certain narrative and storytelling around the whole local food movement. Although Coles and Woolworths are emphasising fresh and local products in their marketing campaigns, it’s not necessarily accurate,” Bone says.

 

“For smaller independents, their claims [to local produce] are potentially more credible and there is a more authentic narrative that they can emphasise.”

 

“People who shop at smaller food retail stores are more inclined to listen to the merchant, so those merchants are in a position to promote their local produce through discussion in addition to signage and packaging.”

 

Bone also encourages small businesses in the hospitality sector to promote any locally-produced food featured in their menus.

 

“Given the fact that people have been cutting down on restaurant visits with greater intensity in the past year, it increases the need for all out-of-home food providers to create more compelling reasons to entice them into their restaurants,” he says.

 

“It can also be a differentiating factor if you do it well.”

 

Diamonon says industry players need to be wary of using diluted versions of the term ‘local’ purely to promote sustainable food credentials.

 

“Local claims need to be accompanied by an authentic brand story that brings the value of local to life,” she says.

 

Another challenge for the local food market is competition from imports, which has intensified as a result of the Queensland floods.

 

With hectares of food crops completely destroyed by the torrential rain, yield has been dramatically reduced and food prices have soared.

 

“During this difficult time, value-conscious Australians are faced with a decision to either support local farmers or turn to lower-priced imports,” Diamonon says.

 

“Consumers are keen to support fellow Australians, but need to be reassured that buying local does not compromise their pursuit for value or quality.”

 

“Emphasising tangible benefits such as price and convenience – in addition to local claims – will appeal to well-intentioned consumers.”