Eating local - the movement that encouraged people to purchase their food from small, local farms with sustainable practices - is getting a major corporate makeover. Huge food companies are rebranding local food to include food produced near their processing plants, even though it's still shipped out to your grocery store a thousand miles away. Is the locavore movement losing its soul?
Concerns over food safety, quality and cost are driving people beyond hard-core locavores to seek out food that has traveled fewer miles and has a traceable provenance, said Stephanie Childs, a spokeswoman for the food conglomerate ConAgra.
The company recently began a marketing campaign to highlight its Hunt’s canned tomatoes, most of which are grown within 120 miles of its Oakdale, Calif., processing plant.
Of course, the tomatoes would be local only to people in the area. But if the company can show consumers its tomatoes are grown near the plant that processes them, shoppers who want to know where their food comes from might be more apt to buy them.
“The problem is there is absolutely no way we can have local produce within 100 miles of every person in America, so the question is how do we take it to that next level,” said Phil Lempert, a grocery industry analyst known as the Supermarket Guru who ConAgra recently hired to work on its Hunt’s tomatoes promotion.
The issue is no longer what local food is, but rather, what what 'local' means to you, the consumer. One tenet of the local foods movement is accountability - "know your farmer, know your food." When your farmer is one of dozens that produces local potatoes, which are sliced, cooked, mixed with other farmers' potatoes, packaged, and shipped around the world by a chip company, that is something you lose - even if you get to know your farmer through a television ad.