Locally Grown

Today we welcome guest blogger Maurice Totty, formally Director of Procurement at Foodbuy and now Director of Produce Sales at FAC Food Logistics. FAC serves as a logistics partner to food manufacturers, growers, suppliers, distributors and restaurant chains, and Maurice leads the company’s produce team to provide complete supply-chain management from grower to foodservice operator. Here, he shares his experience and insights on the current status of locally grown produce in foodservice and invites your questions and comments. 

Make no mistake, locally grown no longer can be called a trend. In foodservice, sourcing locally has risen to become a necessary part of doing business and actually serves as a point of differentiation—for operators as well as Foodservice Produce Expo exhibitors. 

I’m noticing locally grown transition from operators’ just being able to say they source locally grown foods, to people wanting more information. They want to know the farmer, the farm’s location and the carbon footprint created in the course of doing business. They want to know how our working relationship helps the farm family maintain a living and even send their kids to colleges. I also see local sourcing facilitating menu planning. Chefs can do more pre-planning by understanding seasonality and knowing what’s available where and when.

But I think the biggest contribution locally grown offers is flavor explosion. Fruits and vegetables purchased near their source bear higher flavor profiles. This produce lands on guests’ plates at peak ripeness and freshness with unbeatable taste. Part of the local appeal also comes from these fresh flavors’ ability to bring back memories—maybe it’s that fresh strawberry pie your grandmother made, or the juiciest, brightest pink watermelon you snacked on as a kid. When recreated in foodservice setting, that experience instills memories now attached to your business that get guests talking and coming back for more.

It’s important to recognize that locally grown shouldn’t be viewed as competition. Every area across the country offers characteristic local flavors and products that operators can take advantage of.  Plus, my experience in foodservice has shown total annual local purchases—that’s produce, dairy, everything—amount to about 10 percent. When you break that down even further by commodity, it amounts to about 1 percent of all purchases.

Nonetheless, local has a permanent place in foodservice. This makes operators everywhere hungry for partnerships with reputable sources of local produce. In my previous position working for Compass Group/Foodbuy, we serviced more than 8,000 accounts across 48 states. As a buyer looking ahead to the Foodservice Conference in Monterey, I would welcome the opportunity to forge new relationships with vendors local to my accounts.

In the produce foodservice arena, food safety is of paramount concern. Ensuring local sources are growing and harvesting produce properly is critical. Adhering to Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and providing certification is one way to ensure food-safe products. Also, I see a real opportunity here for distributors to be the catalyst to complete the local sourcing triangle. Distributors serve to ensure traceability, audits and liability protections are in place.

Other important information easily incorporated into an exhibit—perhaps a handout—includes details about what you’re growing and weeks it’s available. Seasonality charts and lists of products locally characteristic to your area are useful. I mentioned the importance of distributors, so also providing a list of distributors offering your products would be extremely useful.

Finally, a good old-fashioned “Ask Me About Local” button could work well. This quickly tells me you cater to local and gives me a reason to approach your booth.

In the meantime, ask me about local and any other questions you may have about what I’ve shared with you in this post.

2 thoughts on “Locally Grown

  1. I believe organic will never have a solid foot in foodservice like locally grown will. The reason? Once you take organic fruits and vegetables out of the bag, it loses context and you can’t see or taste that it’s different. Locally grown tomatoes, for example, simply look different. They are a rich, ruby red, they’re juicier and less mealy and the flavor explodes in your mouth. And as I mentioned in my post, flavors like these evoke memories of picking a tomato off the vine from your garden or the ones your grandmother served at dinner when you were a kid. Organic doesn’t have this kind of flavor power to differentiate itself as much as locally grown products do.

    As to downfalls, I see the biggest problem as the potential for demand outweighing the source of supply. A restaurant might run a local promotion featuring a certain local fruit or vegetable that’s so much of a hit that interest exceeds the amount of product the restaurant can get from that grower at that point in time.

    Locally grown sources face much of the same agricultural susceptibilities to weather and perishability as foodservices’ traditional sources for produce face. When it rains for three or four days, there is no local produce available. The farmers suffer as well and the chef desiring to provide locally grown product to their guests.

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