Shoppers Choose Local

Forget the aisles stocked with organics. If local foods are not available, 30% of consumers will purchase groceries elsewhere, reports a new study released this month by global management consulting firm A.T. Kearney.

According to the study, named “Buying into the Local Food Movement,” 66% of consumers surveyed said they prefer local food to organic food because they believe it helps local economies. Sixty percent said local delivers a broader and better assortment of products and 45% said local provides healthier alternatives than organics. When asked if they believe organic and local food contribute positively to sustainability, 68% of respondents said that local food contributes positively, while only 50% said organic foods contribute. The study also found that across all income segments, 70% of consumers were willing to pay more for local food.

“Clearly, local food cannot be ignored as a growing segment for the grocery industry,” said James Rushing, A.T. Kearney partner and leader of the study.

A similar survey by Whole Foods Market released late last year reiterates this claim. Forty-seven percent of the 2,274 adults polled said that they would be willing to pay more for fruit, vegetables, meat and cheese produced near their homes – beating the 32% that said they would pay more for food without artificial ingredients, the 30% willing to pay more for meat made without antibiotics or hormones and the 20% willing to pay more for “handmade, small-batch, artisanal and specialty foods.”

“Ten or fifteen years ago, the organic label was more important to our customers,” A.C. Gallo, the president and COO of Whole Foods, told The Huffington Post. “But we started to feel, over the last five to seven years, that our customers were more interested in buying produce that’s local. If we went into a period of extremely high fuel prices, then it would be an advantage to source as much local as possible.”

Local can also mean safer food in comparison to imported organic foods from China. China’s increasingly serious pollution has heavily contaminated its irrigation water–leaving crops imported to the U.S. and elsewhere laced with heavy metals like mercury, industrial toxins, pharmaceuticals and raw sewage.

“I have seen farmers in Hebei use contaminated water, because there’s nothing else to use,” said Hu Kanping of the nonprofit Chinese Ecological Civilization Research and Promotion Association, based in Beijing. ”Farmers won’t eat what they produce. They have fields for themselves and fields for the market. This is a very serious problem, not just for farmers but also for everyone else. It’s not just about water safety; it’s about food safety as well.”