“Local” claims are not equally effective across all food categories, Harris Poll finds

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Source: iStock
Source: iStock

Related tags Local food Us

About half of Americans say “local” claims are an important factor in their food purchase decisions, but exactly how influential they are depends on where in the store they are made, according to a recent survey. 

“When looking at different departments within a grocery store, Americans don’t appear to believe they’re all created equal when it comes to the importance of purchasing local foods,”​ according to the results of a recent Harris Poll of more than 2,200 US adults released in December.

The claim is most important in the produce department, where 67% of respondents said they look for it, according to the survey. Just over half of Americans also said buying local is important for dairy, baked goods and meat.

Local was slightly less important in the deli and seafood departments where 43% and 39% of consumers said they looked for the claim.

The value of local plummets when it comes to frozen food – only 26% of respondents say they look for the claim in this section, the poll found.

Consumers who value the claim are not restricting their shopping trips to the obvious channels for local, such as farmers markets. Rather, 46% of Americans look for the claim at traditional grocery stores, which is slightly more than the 42% at farmers’ markets and 27% at farm stands.

The value of the claim drops notably at big box stores and club stores, where only 18% and 16% of consumers look for the claim, according to the poll.

Freshness perceptions fuel desire for “local”​ claims

As illustrated by the categories in which local claims are most effective, consumers gravitate to the marketing term because they associate it with fresher, healthier food, the Harris Poll revealed.

It found about a third of consumers buy local food because they perceive it as higher quality and healthier. More than two-thirds think it means the food will be fresher and 37% say it tastes better, the poll found.

About a quarter of consumers also perceive local food to be safer – an attribute that is increasingly important in an era of heightened food scares.

Buying local is not all about immediate health benefits and perceived quality, though. The poll also found the No.1 reason consumers say they buy local is to support their area economy, according to 39% of poll respondents.

Local isn’t everything

Even though local claims have risen in popularity in recent years, half of those surveyed said it does not influence their purchase decisions – which places it behind several other factors, according to the survey.

Other factors that more Americans listed as important when choosing food include the sugar content (69%), fat content (66%), sodium content (64%) and calorie count (64%).

“The perceived importance of buying local is more on par with whether items are antibiotic and hormone free,”​ which is important to 53% of consumers, or if they contain artificial colors and flavors, which 50% of respondents said was important, according to the poll.

Nonetheless, the emphasis consumers place on local is rising and a good way for manufacturers nationwide to tap into this sentiment is increase their supply chain transparency and explain to consumers from where their food comes and how it is made. 

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