Date: April 9, 2002

 

The following memo is based upon a telephone survey of 400 residents of Santa Cruz County, conducted between March 12 and March 18, 2002. The survey was conducted using random digit dial methodology and the margin of error is +/-4.9.

 

Buying Food: The Priority of Buying Local

People have a distinct set of preferences when they purchase food, primarily considering freshness (86 percent very important) and nutritional value (74 very important). Buying food that is free of chemicals and pesticides (58 percent) and cost (53 percent) are secondary concerns.

Despite the relatively low priority of buying local, the vast majority of people say they do buy locally produced and grown food (88 percent). Given that a wide range of products such as milk and fruit are frequently produced locally, this result is not unusual. On the other hand, buying locally is not particularly intentional for the majority of these consumers. Less than half (45 percent) of consumers who buy local say they buy local every week, and only 40 percent of all consumers say they frequently look at the label to see where food was produced.

Consumers buy locally produced and grown food because they think it is fresher, and because they want to support their local economy and community. In an open-ended question, 48 percent of consumers who buy local name support for the local economy and community as the primary factor in their decision to buy local, while 37 percent offer "freshness" as their primary reason. Fewer people say they buy locally produced and grown food because of its nutritional value (6 percent) or to avoid chemicals or pesticides (2 percent). The concern with freshness seems to fit with a strong preference for buying locally grown vegetables and fruit, rather than dairy, meat or poultry.

 

Type of Locally Produced Food Preferred

(Percent Responding)

Vegetables

73

Fruit

67

Meat

14

Dairy

14

Poultry

10

Not important to buy local

12

 

Price and inconvenience are the two primary obstacles to buying local. Lack of information about where to buy locally grown foods also inhibits consumers from buying local. The fact that the vast majority of people do their shopping in big grocery stores, with a significant number in convenience stores and smaller independent stores, represents a challenge in this regard. Most consumers simply do not shop in places where locally grown and produced food predominates – community supported agricultural farms or at farmers markets.

 

Shopping Location – Weekly

(Percent Responding)

Large grocery stores

74

Small independent stores

44

Convenience stores

26

Farmers’ markets

15

Warehouse stores

8

Roadside stands

5

Community supported farms

5

 

Who Buys Local?

While nearly all consumers buy locally produced and grown food at some time, the people who think it is important to buy local are distinctive – in general, they are more thoughtful about their food purchasing. In Santa Cruz County, two-thirds say it is important to them that food comes from farms and ranches in their area. These consumers make deliberate choices about food when they shop, valuing nutrition and food safety significantly more than those consumers who place less importance on buying local.

People who think buying local is important are more concerned about chemicals and pesticides in food and about the nutritional value and healthiness of food. For instance, 64 percent of people who think it is important to buy local consider the presence of chemicals and pesticides important when they purchase food compared to 44 percent among people who do not think it is important to buy local.

 

Reasons to Buy Locally Produced Food

(Percent Responding)

 

Important
to Buy Local

Not Important
to Buy Local

Freshness

87

82

Nutritious or healthy

78

64

Chemicals/pesticides

64

44

Cost

55

50

Locally produced/grown

46

15

Organic

40

17

Convenience

29

35

 

 

People who value buying local also have a different orientation towards their community and the environment. They are more likely to pay attention to environmental issues in their community and express greater alarm about food safety.

 

Attention to Environment and Food Safety

(Percent Responding)

 

Important
to Buy Local

Not Important
to Buy Local

Local Environment

 

 

Closely

82

61

Not closely

18

39

 

 

 

Food Safety

 

 

Very concerned

66

39

Somewhat concerned

22

39

Little/not concerned

12

21

People who buy local are also identifiable demographically – they are more likely to be the women who are responsible for purchasing food in their households, over 30 years old, college educated, and married with children under 18 at home. These consumers say they buy local more frequently and are more likely to look at the labels to see where food is grown or produced. Since they are more likely to be the primary shoppers in the household and probably responsible for the cooking, they are less likely to eat out and buy pre-prepared food.

Food Labeling

At this juncture, labels highlighting organic food, foods with a Fair Trade label, and food with a Field to Ocean label carry weight with a relatively small segment of consumers in Santa Cruz County. Only a slim majority of consumers (54 percent) say an "organic" label would make them more likely to buy a product (only 24 percent much more likely), while 48 percent say a Field to Ocean label would make them more likely (21 percent much more likely). Even though Santa Cruz County is a politically liberal area where people have relatively high levels of concern about the environment, the organic label still appeals to a limited segment of consumers.

 

Likelihood of Buying with Specific Labels

(Percent Responding)

 

Much/Somewhat
More Likely

No difference/
Don’t know

Organic

54

32

Fields to Ocean

48

30

Fair Trade

37

52

 

A Fair Trade label carries even less weight, with 37 percent saying it would make them more likely to purchase a product (12 percent much more likely). Clearly, more education is required before these labels will have a substantially positive impact on local buying behavior. As we discuss later, other messages about buying local resonate more strongly with consumers.

When confronted with issues about the loss of agricultural land due to development, low wages and poor working conditions of farm workers, Santa Cruz consumers express a high degree of concern. Fully, 84 percent of consumers are concerned (51 percent very concerned) about loss of agricultural land due to development in Santa Cruz County and 82 percent are concerned about the working conditions and wages of farm workers (45 percent very concerned). While not quite as high, 68 percent are concerned about the quality of food in Santa Cruz County school cafeterias (37 percent very concerned), with married mothers expressing higher levels of concern.

The Local Economy. The notion that buying local supports the local economy and family farmers resonates strongly with consumers. This desire to help the local community and economy emerges strongly at the start the survey and remains one of the strongest messages at the close of the survey. As we noted earlier, this is the top consideration when people shop generally and when they buy locally produced and grown food.

Supporting the local economy is also linked to a desire to purchase food produced in this country, rather than imported from abroad. Fully, 53 percent of consumers say that it is very important to them to buy food produced at farms and ranches in the United States and the local economy message that consumers find persuasive includes language about purchasing food grown in the U.S.

Freshness. When people think about locally produced food – especially fruit and vegetables – they want a product that is fresh and good quality. As noted earlier, this is the top consideration when people shop generally and when they buy locally produced and grown food.

Food Safety. While these results suggest that the strongest message for the CAFF Buy Local campaign is relatively narrowly focused on freshness and supporting the local economy, concerns about food safety are also strong. In regression analysis, concern about food safety is an important predictor of an interest in and support for buying local.

The major food safety concern people hold is the presence of chemicals and pesticides in their food (54 percent), not the other kinds of contamination that occur with food processed in centralized facilities.

Top Food Safety Concerns

(Percent Responding)

Chemicals/Pesticides/hormones

54

Freshness/Spoiled

17

Genetically modified

10

Worries about health

6

Salmonella/bacteria/e coli

5

People tampering

5

Contamination

4

Food is treated/processed

4

Cleanliness

3

 

Target Consumer Groups

The information and messages about locally produced and grown food moves broad segments of the public to a more supportive position about buying locally.