What Does the Phrase "Locally Sourced" Mean?

Farmer's markets provide an outlet for local food producers.
Farmer's markets provide an outlet for local food producers. (Image: IT Stock/Polka Dot/Getty Images)

"Locally sourced" is a term used by restaurateurs and supermarkets to describe or label food products; however, there is no agreed definition for the use of "local." Some stores may consider that vegetables grown within 100 miles fits the definition, while others may feel that it only includes foods produced within a 10-mile radius.

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What is Local?

Producers may not label food "organic" without meeting certain standards, but there are no rules specifying what locally sourced means. Retailers are giving more shelf space to locally grown or sourced products. Customers buy these products because they feel that not only are they supporting local businesses, but also reducing their carbon footprint. The Walmart chain, however, considers local to include any product grown anywhere in the same state as it's sold. Whole Foods is an organic retailer that limits "local" to within about 200 miles of the store stocking the product. Added to this, the chains may consider 1,000-acre farms as local producers, whereas consumers may perceive it as meaning a farm with no more than three acres.

Restaurants

A 2010 survey by the National Restaurant Association named "locally sourced" as one of the top food trends in meat, seafood, fruit and vegetables. The report shows that customers want local food that is also organically produced. Finding organic products is less problematic, but restaurant owners face the same issues as supermarkets when sourcing local foods. The director of sourcing and sustainability for Eat'n Park says that so many suppliers have different definitions of local; therefore, he has settled on a 150-mile radius from the restaurant for local products.

Perception

Consumer perception plays a big role in the increased demand for local products. Matt Saline, CEO of Mambo Sprouts, a company marketing organic foods, says that too many people think local means organic. He also claims that this view has evolved from local producers selling at farmer's markets who often attach the organic label to foods that are not organically produced.

Safety

According to the Grocery Manufacturers' Association, locally grown food is not necessarily safer than other food, although there is a consumer perception that it is. A spokesperson for the Association points out that a food-related illness caused by local produce is less likely to be reported because it usually only involves a small number of people. Primus Labs also points out that local producers may have fewer food safety regulations in place, but suppliers to Whole Foods and Walmart are checked by these chains for compliance with food safety.

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