Supermarkets & Local Produce


The other day I had to run into my local supermarket … I know, I know, but tropical fruit is a weakness not to mention one of the few groups of fruit my husband can eat raw without getting “itchy.” As I walked by a produce display I saw this sign above some eggplants.

No doubt you can tell why it caught my eye. I snapped a photo of it on my iPhone and decided to contact the supermarket chain. I wanted to know what they considered “local.”
I emailed the headquarters customer service. I wasn’t sure I would get an answer but thought it couldn’t hurt to ask. Well, I’ll give them props because much to my surprise I got an actual response from a real person. She said she would ask the produce buyers and get back to me.
Here’s what the produce buyers had to say: “Locally grown does not mean product in that store was bought in that state. We source this time of year in NJ, NY, CT etc and support local growers. So product would be considered more regional.”
OK, there are a lot of ways to look at this response. I don’t want to ignore the negative, but I am a the-glass-is-half-full kind of person. I like that they are trying to support local growers. I’d rather people buy produce that’s regional as opposed to from very far away. In terms of my 100-mile foodshed: Obviously all of CT, much of NY, plus a bit of NJ fits within the boundaries.
It’s not all bad. I’d love for them to do better/more, but I suppose something is better than nothing.
However, I think using the words “locally grown” is deceptive. It’s all about marketing and jumping on the latest buzz words. There also is the issue that even if it came from a local farm, say in Connecticut, that doesn’t mean it goes directly from the farm to the Connecticut stores. For the large supermarket chains, as one local farmer told me, typically everything is trucked to a central warehouse where it’s then distributed among the various stores. So, it’s still a lot of extra food miles and it means that it’s not the freshest it can be.
Honestly I am not at all surprised by their response. But I have to admit it does feel good to know that I wanted to know something, so I asked and actually got an answer.
What do you think?

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  1. Mangochild wrote about this issue – in more general terms – recently too!

    I would prefer a little sign in-store (to a banner) that said, "New Jersey Blueberries" or whatever. The information we'd be getting would be more precise (or do I mean accurate?) and help us make a more informed choices. And if I were in the store, I'd buy it and I suspect that other folks who might be less interested in the issue would too!

    A billboard (Mangochild's encounter) might read "Regional Produce" but I seriously wish CT and MA would ban billboards altogether – like VT. But that's another issue . . .

  2. You know, I read that by Mangochild. It's a good one.

    I like your idea of the supermarket giving more accurate info on the signs or banner so customers can be more informed.

  3. You bring up an excellent point. Our definitions of many popular marketing buzz words can vary greatly. (It depends on what you definition of is, is). And props to the supermarket for following up. I guess you never really know where your produce comes from unless you pick it yourself or find you local farmstand but its good to know these stores are responding, because we all rely on them in a pinch.


  4. It's so true the only way to know for sure is to buy direct from a farm.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I agree with the signage that Zoe posted about – I've been in a store that does label "Jersey blueberries" "Connecticut grown peaches" etc. I appreciate that, because everyone's definition of local is different. Some see it as state-wide, some see it as 100 miles, some see it as more regional. Having the specifics lets the consumer decide for his/her self.
    Buying/picking from a farm has its own special appeal though and is what I usually try to do, both because there is that insane markup at most stores that keeps money out of the hands of the local farmers, and simply because it feels good to pick the fruit/veg myself and feel a connection to where it is grown. A raspberry pint that took you X time to pick and brought an experience with it seems to carry more "meaning" than one chosen at a supermarket.

  6. If you go to you will see that "Verified Local" is coming out this year. Just snap a photo of the barcode with your iphone and see the farmer, the location of the farm, and other information about the produce item. No more guessing…

  7. Mangochild: It's true, there's nothing like picking your own.

    Locale: Neat, will check it out.

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