We are completing a year-long study of how to increase sales of local food. The work, funded by the United States Department of Agriculture and its Local Food Promotion Program, was performed by our team in association with Atlantic Corporation of Waterville. Other collaborators included the University of Maine Cooperative Extension for Cumberland County, Marketing Strategy Decisions, and the Maine Center for Business and Economic Research. After researching every aspect of our local food business, we have created a Local Food Development Plan that will increase local food sales in the greater Portland area, benefiting consumers and farmers alike.

To first understand what consumers were looking for in their local markets, we conducted a survey of our shoppers’ local food preferences (remember that?). We learned that our shoppers were excited about local food and wanted to increase the amount of local food they purchase overall.

Then, to make sure we could meet that demand, we turned our research inward to learn more about how they are currently aggregating products from their farm partners. We found that we can streamline our delivery routes to add in new farm partners, giving consumers more selection in our markets and giving more farms access to wholesale accounts. With the addition of more equipment and more space, we guess that we’ll be able to double our local food output in the next two or three years.

We also learned more about how shoppers want to hear about local food. We found that the best way to keep our customers informed about where their food comes from is to have shelf tags, lots of local options in addition to national options, and employees who are well versed on local products.

So far, armed with the knowledge from the research we’ve conducted, we are succeeding at our goal of increasing local food consumption in Maine. For example, we have added several new farm partners along their delivery routes, making it easy to get shoppers the products – salad greens, tomatoes, and root vegetables – they want. Also, substituting national products for local ones has been a hit: rather than buying tortillas from California or Texas, shoppers are now able to purchase ones made right in Portland! We also have plans to make it a lot easier for shoppers to know which foods are local in their markets with a uniform and comprehensive marketing strategy.

All of those efforts have shown a real difference: our changes as a result of this research have increased the number of shoppers at our markets by 2%, and that number is likely going to increase another 3.6% next year. Our local product sales are up 25.8% in the past year from this initiative, which represents a win-win for both locally minded shoppers and hard-working farmers of Maine. These numbers add up to more money staying in the state of Maine, rather than leaving it.

With an education/extension component to the grant, we will be presenting ous findings and how they generally relate to the growing local food network at the Common Ground Fair in Unity on Sunday, September 24th at 1:00 pm, at a Slow Money Maine gathering in Gardiner during January, and at other events and venues. Those interested in obtaining a copy of “Rosemont Market: Local Food Development Plan” can click here.