More global food giants are feeling the pincers of little local food markets that are helping to transform consumer tastes. Heinz and Kraft recently joined forces to cut costs and keep their highly processed products afloat amid the healthy food shift. McDonald’s is another one struggling to adjust supply chains designed around frozen, not fresh, products.
What does this news mean? Could these reports indicate something much larger and more transformative than a little restructuring at corporate headquarters?
I think so.
Take a moment to step back and look at the whole of consumer demand, not just the mass market bulge of dollars that our economy has centered around for so long. Out on the market fringes, in the “long tail” of the demand curve, are an exploding number of niche market opportunities that people are now more able to find and choose, largely because of changing technology.
WIRED editor Chris Anderson writes about this Long Tail phenomenon of business today with “millions of niche markets at the shallow end of the bitstream.”
All the way from boxed to homemade, local food market pressure on mass market companies demonstrates just how long and powerful the demand curve is.
In the food arena, the “shallow end of the bitstream” is teaming with community gardens, farmers markets, business incubator kitchens, urban farmers, canning and cooking classes, and a new community-focused middleman — the “regional food hub” — among many other entrepreneurs and initiatives.
These community-based food developments are also connecting across regions, across the country, across the world; a web of options and joyful connections is growing out there. The aim is health and happiness. It’s not specifically to topple the giant mass market. But that might be the case over time as regional, loving food and farm networks grow in the long tail of demand, where people are now more able to find and dine with each other.
A few examples I’ve been following I provide below. My colleague Bob Heuer and I have been reporting and writing about these developments with the Wallace Center at Winrock International, which hosts the National Good Food Network, a peer-to-peer learning community of entrepreneurs and investors in this emerging food sector. Such stories are becoming familiar. What these show are how the many niches of local food are growing together for significant community and economic development opportunity.
The Raleigh News and Observer recently featured the successful work of university and other partners in North Carolina to grow and link the farmers and food processors that make up the supply chain needed to get niche meat to market. http://www.newsobserver.com/news/business/small-business/article14700881.htmlThe Albuquerque Journal in February covered the story of a natural food grocery building a statewide local food distribution route that is helping small food and farm businesses grow by taking their products to places far and wide in that sparsely settled state. http://www.abqjournal.com/512492/biz/field.html
The Albany Times-Union in New York’s capital region in January covered a powerful innovation underway with the regional food hub Red Tomato and the last independent and locally owned food distributor in the region. The two are partnering up to get small farm foods to big city grocers without heavy extra middleman costs. http://www.timesunion.com/business/article/Wholesaler-is-FedEx-for-local-food-5915331.php
The lesson for me in the headlines about food giants is that the vision of what to come is not found in the mass markets we’ve known but in the community connections and commerce we are building.