The new initiative - 'Choose Local'- comes at a time of increased consumer interest in the origin of their food.
According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), farmers' markets have grown 79 percent since 1994 with approximately 3 million visitors each week in 2002. And natural product analysts at the Hartman Group report more than 75 percent of consumers would like to know more about where their food comes from and how it is produced.
The new program by Wild Oats, which is in place as from this month, is sourcing more than 7,200 locally produced food items from around 3,500 farmers, food artisans and manufacturers based throughout the US.
"This local focus boosts area economies, reduces negative environmental impacts and supports sustainable agriculture. Our commitment to these efforts is long-term; it's part of our mission. Wild Oats prides itself on selling food that remembers its roots, and the 'Choose Local' program allows us to continue to give back to local growers and to educate our shoppers about the importance of selecting local products," said Perry Odak, president and chief executive officer of Wild Oats Markets.
"Our smaller size makes us more nimble and better equipped to bring in a large mix of local foods from local suppliers. Large, conventional supermarkets simply don't have the sourcing and infrastructure capabilities to make a significant commitment to local products," he added.
The products that feature in the program will be marked with 'Choose Local' shelf tags to make it easier for consumers to identify them. Some tags will profile local vendors like Boulder, Colorado-based Third Street Chai, a tea company that brews small batches of 100 percent organic chai with Fair Trade spices and teas from all over the world, said the retailer.
The farmer and vendor profiles provided are designed to allow customers to learn more about the local businesses they are supporting and feel good about their purchases.
The tags will inform consumers about the benefits of purchasing local products, which include a better taste as the food is consumed fresher. Local sourcing also supports the local economy, and a reduction in food miles also benefits the environment. Furthermore, local products sourced by Wild Oats are typically grown using sustainable and organic techniques, meaning better preservation for the land and soil, said the company.
In order to raise awareness of its new initiative, the grocery chain will organize local fest summer celebrations nationwide on Saturday, where local farmers and artisan product manufacturers will be invited to explain how they grow and produce their products.
"So many times people don't have a connection to where their food comes from. They think milk comes from a grocery store. Through our Local Fest we will create a unique, authentic experience for Wild Oats customers - the chance to meet and talk with the people who actually grow and produce the foods we eat," said Odak, adding that consumers will also be introduced to local products they may not have tried before or known were available in their communities.