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The importance of being local

January 13, 2006

One troubling trend for multi-national food producers is the shift to local. With an increasing focus on the goodness and authenticity of food consumers are forcing grocery stores to offer more local products. This is creating opportunity not just for local farms, but for local producers of packaged foods as well. These local brands have no ad budgets, little money available for fancy packaging design, but usually standout because of a personality or the region behind them.

The European Commission has even developed laws to protect local producers; only allowing producers that really produce food in those regions to use the name, for example to use the name “Parma” with you ham, it has to be produced from the area around Parma in Italy.

In the United States, small organizations like Local Harvest are working to promote local food with an internet based directory of farms, markets, restaurants and co-ops. Big non-for-profits like Oxfam are also supporting the cause.

Local presents a serious challenge for mass producers with their huge volume requirements and creates bland, fabricated and in-authentic brands as Mark Ritson writes in this week?s Brand Republic.

“The bland brands that have dominated the supermarket shelves for the past century have gradually moved away from the original, authentic meaning of brand and toward a global, homogeneous, meaningless interpretation.

These brands were created by design agencies, tested by researchers and positioned by agencies to be aspirational. They are whatever you want them to be. Just don’t ask how or where they were made, or by whom.

Take Northern Foods as an example. If it copied the packaging style of the Yorkshire Soup Company, its pies would show anonymous shift workers wearing headphones on a production line.

Northern Foods creates bland, soulless food using brand names such as Dalepak, San Marco and Pork Farms. There is no seasonality, no provenance, no passion in a Dalepak burger. San Marco pizza may sound Italian, but it is actually manufactured in an Irish factory. Pork Farms is located on an industrial estate outside Nottingham.”

For years, multi-nationals would buy local companies and fold them into the central organization and often divest of the smaller brands in the company’s portfolio. Often, despite promises that local plants and factories would be protected, they are nearly always closed and local workers made redundant.

Perhaps, the way to bring more authenticity back into the food and drink business is for the multi-nationals to buy local producers, but to retain their plant and portfolio of historic and local brands. Although, this is far from being local, it does at least bring more authenticity into their offering.

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