The Local Challenge - Balancing Customer Demand and Local Sources
By Christopher Gaulke Lecturer Food & Beverage Management, Cornell University | August 09, 2015
Co-authored by Heather Kolakowski, Lecturer, Food & Beverage Management, Cornell University
In today's global marketplace, food and beverage operations are faced with a myriad of challenges to meet their guest's expectations while maintaining a profitable bottom line. Sourcing local food and beverage ingredients that meet the needs of the organization as well as the demands of the guest is increasingly important in this competitive landscape. Understanding the term local and how it is defined in your organization, identifying your guest's expectations and key drivers, and assessing various sourcing options and selecting the best method for the needs of your organization are critical components for creating a successful local food program.
As resources become more constrained and guest preferences more discerning, food and beverage organizations are faced with a challenge to provide quality products at affordable prices. One of the more recent trends within the food and beverage industry is the return to local and regional food producers. The local food movement does not have a mutually agreed upon definition, unlike other popular food labels such as organic or Fair Trade. Generally, local foods are considered to be foods produced near their point of consumption. Many organizations use geographic distance as the method to determine what may or may not be considered local.
Defining the radius length as 50, 100, 240 or 400 miles away is not regulated, and depends solely on the organization to establish. One of the many challenges of utilizing local sources includes the availability and consistency of product within the established geographic region and the cost associated with its purchase. Oranges do not naturally grow close to New York City (unless grown in special hothouses), but are utilized in multiple aspects of a food and beverage outlet, from the bar to the kitchen. Carrots may be grown locally during the season, but might not have the same size or appearance as more industrial farms beyond the geographical radius. Some businesses choose to modify their local food sourcing practices in order to satisfy guest expectations and availability of product, however it becomes increasingly challenging to balance the two and remain affordable. Rather than committing to 100% locally sourced product, perhaps relying on local purveyors can help satisfy the guests' desire for a business to be socially responsible and contribute to the local economy. For example, a restaurant may utilize a local coffee roasting company to supply coffee, which supports the local economy even though the product is not grown in the region.
An organization must be transparent in its policies of their definition of local in order to have clarity for their guests and consistency for purchasing purposes.