Small-farm aggregators, called food hubs, are helping wholesalers stock local food and sell it with integrity; with the local economic, environmental, and social benefits consumers want. The new Wallace Center-National Good Food Network report — Food Hubs: Solving Local — shows how.
Here’s an excerpt of the report, co-authored by Patty Cantrell, Regional Food Solutions LLC:
Small-farm aggregators scale up with larger buyers
Consumer demand for local food is undeniable and growing. Not so obvious is what qualifies as “local.” Nor is it clear how the food retail and service industries can pull safe and reliable quantities of small-volume product through large-volume wholesale channels.
Responding to these market challenges is a new intermediary: The regional food hub. Retailers and food service companies, large and small, are teaming up with food hubs to differentiate themselves with local food programs and satisfy strong consumer demand.
Food hubs are the scaling up strategy for local food. Industry executives can get ahead of the curve by becoming acquainted with the food hubs in their territories and taking strategic steps to grow local food sales with them.
Food hubs bring farmer networks, food safety protocols, and logistics and marketing strengths. Buyers identify assets and opportunities, from receiving to merchandising, for fitting the small-farm aggregators and their diverse product lines into supply chains.
These partnerships are delivering trust to the consumer, and the consistency and safety the market demands. They are building business models for scaling up the supply of local food with the attributes consumers want.
Next Steps for Execs
Solving Local is a resource to help industry executives get started. The report briefs industry leaders on the functions and expertise of regional food hubs. Case studies introduce five established food hubs from among a growing field of such enterprises across the country. The cases illustrate similarities and differences among food hubs, and the many ways retailers and distributors are working with them to build successful programs.
Food hubs bridge the gap between smaller-scale farms and larger-scale wholesale with knowledge and expertise in both worlds. They work with producers and buyers to address challenges involved in scaling up for wholesale channels while maintaining local food’s value for increasingly discriminating consumers.
The distance food travels is only one variable in the local food equation. What more and more consumers are looking for is transparency.
“Local” embodies positive returns to farmers, workers, communities, and the environment. “Local” also means fresh and healthy food produced in harmony with nature and neighbors. Promoters call it “good food:” Healthy for the body, green for the environment, fair to workers, and affordable to everyone.
More than 200 food hubs are now in operation across the country, a product of market forces and new consumer values. Some are well established and growing. Many are new and developing. All are working with industry partners, and increasingly with each other across regions, to deliver the local taste and transparency consumers demand.
Case Studies: Five Food Hub Leaders
This food hub lines up the supply, logistics, and marketing for branded local food programs featuring products from a network of farms in the Northeast.
Good Natured Family Farms
Operating out of a regional grocery chain’s warehouse, this branded alliance of 150 farmers supplies metropolitan Kansas City and beyond.
La Montanita Cooperative Distribution Center
This distribution arm of a retail grocery cooperative uses its Organic Valley routes to open markets for New Mexico producers from Albuquerque to Connecticut.
Cherry Capital Foods
The Michigan logistics company leverages accounts with Kroger and Chartwells to build statewide routes that connect demand and supply.
The Philadelphia distributor brings wholesome food to the inner city and Mid-Atlantic region by linking area farms with small food service accounts.