Local food is increasing in popularity. The more local, the better. However, selling local food is much more demanding than many may be aware of. Fortunately, new digital solutions are on the way.
In the project URBANFARMS, researchers have studied various sales channels that can make everyday life a little easier for local food producers and their customers. The target group for the project has been suburban farmers located nearby Oslo and Bergen in Norway.
"Our job feels meaningful when we can give information to those who want to know more about existing opportunities, how the various sales channels work and which solutions are best suited for them", says NIBIO researcher Anna Birgitte Milford.
Exciting times with new digital platforms
"Local food is very much in vogue in the catering industry. More and more cafés and restaurants in Oslo and Bergen offer food as an experience. They want to use local food as a marketing measure. This increases demand for both local products and for well-functioning sales channels", says NIBIO researcher Frøydis Gillund.
"There are already several digital platforms that connect manufacturers with various consumer groups. Some act as a platform with a common payment solution, and some also offer delivery of goods. Some are limited to one region, others cover the whole of Norway, and some even work internationally", says Gillund.
Right now, there is a race to develop the leading digital app that connects manufacturers and customers in the simplest possible way. According to the researchers, no one has completely cracked it yet. But it's only a matter of time.
"This is an exciting time where a lot is happening very quickly", says Milford.
Bristol has succeeded in facilitating for local food
In the project, Bristol was used as a kind of "satellite case". Bristol is a city in Southwest England with approximately 470,000 inhabitants. The city is known for having succeeded in facilitating the sale of local food. The researchers were interested in finding out what Norway can learn from this.
"In Bristol there are two farms in the middle of the city with livestock and vegetable cultivation on fairly large areas. In addition, there are many smaller allotment gardens around. We have some of that in Oslo as well, but not in the middle of the city center in the same way. Connected to the large farms in Bristol, there are shops, cafés, and a kindergarten. In Oslo, the allotment gardens are much more isolated, each plot owner cultivating on his own little spot", says Milford, who is from Bergen, but lived for four months in Bristol during the project period.
In Bristol they have several shops and markets as alternatives to the established grocery chains. Here you can buy locally produced goods, and the researcher believes this may be where Norway has the most to learn.
In Bristol, you can also subscribe to local food delivered on the doorstep.
"I subscribed to Community Farm and got a box of vegetables delivered to my door once a week. You never quite know what you will get as it depends on what is in season, but you can choose whether you want more fruit or vegetables, and the size of the box. Similar arrangements exist for meat, and everywhere in England you can still get milk delivered to your door, says Milford.
In Oslo, there are other business models for sales, such as “Oslo Kooperativ”, “REKO-ringer” and “Dagens”. “Dagens” is a sales channel especially designed for commercial kitchens and restaurants that want to buy locally produced food. These channels are worth looking into if you are interested in knowing more about the possibilities for shopping for local food near you. The researchers did not find anything similar in Bristol.
How local should local food be?
It is important to reach a broad agreement on how local food should be defined, because local food is a brand with a stamp of quality. It is about the history of food, about belonging, quality and the environment.
Some of the farms that participated in URBANFARMS are located one and a half to two hours' drive outside Oslo. Is that local enough? Is lamb meat from Stavanger a local product in a restaurant in Bergen? It is local compared to lamb from New Zealand, but what if you compare it to sheep that graze on mount Fløyen in Bergen?
"There is no zone map for how local local food should be. It depends on where you can get hold of the same product. The sheep from Stavanger is not perceived as local in Bergen. But if it were a completely different product, such as kimchi products (Korea's national dish), Stavanger could suddenly be local enough", says Milford.
In other words, the term local food is relative. But local food as a brand should be experienced as safe, close, and environmentally friendly. In addition, the products often have a story, and those who run sales channels are keen on telling this story.
'"Through the sales channels, producers are often promoted through pictures and stories. Getting to know the people behind can help increase consumers' interest. And by getting to know the producer a little, the consumer gets a feeling of getting closer to the food. For many, this is an important part of giving people more knowledge about how food production takes place", says Gillund.
This report presents findings from a qualitative survey among actors involved in the production and sale of local food in Oslo and Bristol, with a focus on sales models and challenges and opportunities for direct sales. The actors in Oslo and Bristol had largely the same motivation for local food sales, including environmental sustainability, transparency in the supply chain, creating community, supporting farmers, sharing knowledge about food and agriculture, as well as being a counterweight to the mainstream food system. Climate crisis and food safety were stronger motivational factors among actors in Bristol than in Oslo, while in Oslo there was more emphasis on the importance of local sales channels for food diversity and quality. Several interviewees pointed to lack of economic profitability as one of the most important challenges for the local food producers. It requires a great deal of work both with production, marketing and sales to be economically successful as a small-scale producer. At the same time, buying local food often requires more time, effort and money from consumers compared to shopping in grocery stores. The report points to several possible solutions to these challenges: increased demand for local food due to changes in attitudes, increased cooperation between producers, sales channels, organizations and public authorities to reduce competition and find common solutions, as well as the development of common digital platforms that can create economies of scale and make marketing and deliveries more efficient. It is also important to look at how the public sector, both through grants, procurement and guidance, can facilitate increased production and sale of local food.
The City of Bristol has a long history and well-established practices in urban farming and city food system planning. Farms apply different urban business models that take advantage of the proximity to the city by providing food to city dwellers. Dedicated retailers and restaurants specialize in local food, and a variety of organisations facilitate and promote a resilient and sustainable urban food system.
Farmers and the city: enhancing added value and sustainability through optimized use of urban and peri-urban farm resources (URBANFARMS)
The project aims at elaborating effective strategies for professional farmers in cities and peri-urban areas to make use of the vicinity of the city to increase added value from their production in an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable way. The project shall identify land resources that are not in optimal use, and demonstrate business models that increase the use of local nutrients and of the nearby city's market and purchasing power.
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