Chefs experiencing demand for locally-sourced, sustainably-grown products
Small and medium producers who can supply the increased demand for fruits, vegetables, meat and seafood that are raised in a sustainable manner can benefit from these emerging restaurant industry trends.
Recently, the National Restaurant Association (NRA) released its 2014 Culinary Forecast, a survey of nearly 1,300 professional chefs. Of the top 10 trends, six represent local and sustainable themes. The top 3 are locally sourced meats and seafood, locally grown produce and environmental sustainability. Others following this theme that placed in the top 10 are hyper-local sourcing (e.g. restaurant gardens), sustainable seafood and farm/estate-branded items.
These trends provide an excellent opportunity for those involved in producing locally-grown, sustainable fruits, vegetables and protein sources. How might producers seize this grand opportunity?
One way that small producers can step up to increased demand at the wholesale purchasing level, is to utilize a food hub. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a food hub is “a centrally located facility with a business management structure facilitating the aggregation, storage, processing, distribution and/or marketing of locally/regionally produced food products.” The most common food hub model consists of a physical place where multiple farmers can drop off their products to be aggregated for pick-up by wholesale and/or retail buyers.
Another technique that small producers can utilize is to actively engage in marketing one’s farm and self. An impressive example is the Tirrell Centennial Farm in Charlotte, Mich. What is especially valuable to chefs and other buyers is the information displayed on its website about the farm, its practices and values. The website displays pictures of the founding family members, today’s farm family, sheep and cattle pasturing in lush green fields and sparkling clear streams meandering past the barnyard. Tirrell’s Facebook page proudly displays a picture of the sign that the farm is environmentally verified by the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program. The message is that a long-established family is ethically raising plants and animals in an environmentally-sustainable manner. This message resonates with the owners of Red Haven, a small plate-style, farm-to-table restaurant in nearby Okemos, that sources lamb and other farm-fresh products from Tirrell’s farm.
Busy growers must also make themselves known to prospective buyers such as chefs. The Allen Market Place in Lansing, Mich. provides marketing assistance to the vendors who sell at their food hub and farmers market. One marketing tool produced for willing vendors is a one-page marketing flyer that introduces prospective buyers to the producer. Full-color and informative, these flyers are an effective way that food hubs can facilitate meaningful relationships between buyers and sellers.
The demand that chefs are sensing from diners looks more and more like a trend, not a fad. Savvy producers can respond by engaging in practices that permit them to be poised to react to these trends and increase their supply to meet the demand. By following the “Find an Expert” link below, you can search to locate members of the Michigan State University Extension Community Food Systems team who are available to work with producers wishing to seize these emerging opportunities.