Locavore Games

Lately, there has been an increasing amount of businesses touting “local” items. This was originally confined to the fruit and vegetable domain, but it has become increasingly common for companies to tout local everything. This includes wool, maple syrup, beer, wine, honey, and pickles. Consumers are becoming more astute in ascertaining which items are really local and which are not.

About five years ago, local food was on the fringe of the food culture. It really picked up steam about 5 years ago, when the organic movement started to become more mainstream. Now, local food is everywhere. We have seen every sort of advertisement for local food, and companies touting themselves as local. The problem is that not every company is truly “local.” Consumers are starting to question whether the premium pricing is worth it for certain local products, and questioning companies on their local credentials. The first has come about due to the recession and general doubtfulness as to whether it matters if some products are local. For instance, is it important to have local pickles and to pay $10 for them? The second has come about due to the very nature of the word local. Local has no definition and there is no standard for defining what it means. Companies have taken advantage of this by selling non local items as local. This has been a big problem at farmer’s markets for years, and is now showing up in other places. The company can then take advantage of premium pricing for the same item that one could buy at the grocery store. Consumers are now actively questioning companies about these items and some vendors do not have an answer ready.

              For a brewery, winery or distillery, this has important implications. Your customers may no longer be willing to just hear that it is made local, but rather that your ingredients are grown locally. The best example of this is a winery. Growing grapes is Massachusetts is tough, but not impossible with the right varietals. However, consumers are not always aware of these varietals. So, some wineries simply produce wine from grapes grown in other places and tout themselves as local. Although this has worked for some time, I believe that consumers will start to question why they should pay a premium price for a wine that could be made anywhere. On the other hand, if you are a winery that grows your own grapes, shouting it from the rooftops will only make you more distinguished from the rest of the crowd. I believe this should be at the front and center of any marketing. It is truly a defining attribute to your winery, and consumers are more in tune to it than ever before.

                 Liquor stores need to be aware of this trend as well, since they will be on the front lines when consumers ask how local a “local” spirit is. More and more questions will come up regarding the provenance of the drink. You and your employees must be ready to answer that question. Also, when you decide on providing shelf space to an item, make sure that the claims that it makes are true. Is it really local, or just a pretender that will leave your customers disappointed and unlikely to come back?