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Marketing insights: No place like home


The Oxford dictionary nominated locavore as its word of the year in
2007. Now, if carnivores eat meat, herbivores eat vegetation and
omnivores like everything, that must mean that locavores eat locally!

The Oxford dictionary nominated locavore as its word of the year in 2007. Now, if carnivores eat meat, herbivores eat vegetation and omnivores like everything, that must mean that locavores eat locally! Sounds simple enough to understand, but while we recognize what a locavore is; we don’t know exactly how to define it. Does local mean your backyard, town, province, country? Just how local is local?

marketing 
What does locally sourced mean to you? How about your customers?  


 

Local Food Plus (LFP) is an emerging type of certification designed to get farmers and consumers to opt for more sustainable foods through buying local. A product bearing the LFP label isn’t necessarily organic, but signifies that the producers made significant efforts to lessen their carbon footprint. For consumers, the label is intended to mean they are buying something made locally and ethically. LFP is a non-profit organization launched in 2005. Their website, www.localfoodplus.ca, points to a consumer research study that showed 79 per cent of central Ontarions prefer to buy local food.

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Locavores started getting noticed by the media about five years ago when a young couple in British Columbia decided to eat only foods grown and processed within a 100-mile radius of their Vancouver home. The pair subsequently wrote a book about it called the The 100-mile Diet. The authors noted: “A single supermarket today may carry 45,000 different items; 17,000 new food products are introduced each year in the United States. Yet here we were in the modern horn of plenty, and almost nothing came from the people or the landscape that surrounds us. How had our food system come to this?” Their insight captured what many Canadians were thinking and feeling about many industries – why are we not supporting ourselves?

There’s nothing like the economic crisis of the past year to make us circle the wagons around what’s near and dear. Here’s where the true impetus for the “buy local” movement gets interesting – it’s not necessarily just about saving jobs. The need goes much deeper than that. People may seek out locally produced foods because they perceive them as being healthier, fresher and better for the environment. There are some who 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. Just to confuse matters more, locally produced foods may or may not also be organic and even if they are grown locally, those foods may be transported far and wide for processing. The connections and side stories are as complex as an episode of Lost.

It’s generally agreed that eating foods sourced locally is a long-term trend. However, how local is defined and which issues drive the local choices are harder to pin down. It seems to be a rather personal decision. A Brock University study in 2008 revealed that the freshness of the food is the primary driver for consumers when choosing a locally produced option. Support for local producers comes in second, with positive environmental impact coming in third. Brian Morin of The Beer Bistro in Toronto takes a very practical approach to those local items he features on his menu. Ontario pork sourced from Mennonite raised Berkshire pigs is slow cooked for 18 hours and made into delicious barbequed pulled pork. The pulled pork then graces his “Hog Wild” pizza as well as various sandwich options. His pizza crusts are made with Oatmeal Stout beer sourced from outside of Montreal, which he says has a beautiful creamy note that makes the crust wonderful. The beer and wine lists boast options from Canadian and international sources. Morin chooses ingredients that are fresh, unique and a good fit with his creative vision for the restaurant. His customers get what he feels is the best and there are many items in his dishes that stir one’s local, provincial and even national pride.

Setting a standard by which to categorize foods that are local is like trying to set a standard for what is pretty. It’s awfully subjective. People who pride themselves on supporting local businesses will be perfectly happy ordering a pizza from an independent operator even if that pizza was made with all imported ingredients. To them, they’re supporting local business. Another person may be happy to know that ingredients were of Canadian origin – even if those products had to travel farther to reach his or her plate than a similar imported ingredient used. Canada is a big country, so food miles can really add up. For this consumer it’s about national pride. If food miles are the driver (all puns intended), then the 100-mile rule is likely this consumer’s definition of local. And of course, high-quality, well-known imported ingredients carry a certain authentic cache with customers. In the end, as Brian Morin has done, the trick is to build the best menu you can and provide the highest quality food. To capitalize on the local trend, look for interesting ingredients that are produced close to home and see if they inspire you creatively. Know where your ingredients come from and then communicate it on your menu so customers can pick those ingredient stories that appeal to them most, wherever they may come from. While local may be a driving foodie force, it’s often the story behind the meal that sells the imagination.


Michelle Brisebois is a marketing professional with experience in the food, pharmaceutical, financial services and wine industries. She specializes in retail brand strategies.


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