It's ironic that technology is required for retailers and consumers to find producers located in their own backyards. But that's just what's happening, and it's increasingly helping the niche local food movement go mainstream.
More consumers are using the Internet to learn about local products at their supermarkets, and retailers are tapping into online databases to facilitate local sourcing. Companies pushing the local angle are promoting both economic and environmental benefits (click here  for more about the local food trend).
Spartan Stores' retailers promote a relatively new “Michigan's Best” campaign and maintain an online shopping list that highlights fresh food and grocery items grown and produced in Michigan.
Hannaford Bros.' website provides an interactive map, called the “Close to Home Vendor Map,” which enables shoppers to locate and learn about Hannaford's local vendors based nearby their homes.
Wegmans Food Market's website includes a locally grown produce section that profiles growers and includes some Q&A's with these suppliers. The retailer's site promotes multiple benefits of buying local, including quality, supporting the local farmer and helping the environment through shorter distribution distances.
The Internet is also connecting retailers to local suppliers, particularly as more small farms create online presences. SN recently reported on a range of retailer resources, including localharvest.org , which features an online database of thousands of farmers' markets, farms and other resources; rodaleinstitute.org/farm_locator , which enables retailers to search for farms within 5 to 100 miles of a location; and attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/local_food , which offers searchable directories of local farms and local food promotional programs.
In many ways, the local food movement seems tailor-made for the digital age. The Internet is great at helping us find things, and many of these producers wouldn't be easily located otherwise. Their Web presences allow producers to relay their stories, which are more complex than those of many nationally known suppliers. Social networking will further fuel the momentum. You can see how a retailer's tweet about a new but limited supply of a locally grown, delicious produce item could spark more traffic at stores.
There's little downside in all of this, except the possibility that consumers and retailers will eventually become confused by a growing flood of local product information. Questions may develop: Are all these claims credible or hype? How do I determine the best products among all these choices?
But for now the potential downside is worth the risk. As more companies and consumers jump on this trend, the Internet is helping a niche phenomenon go mainstream. At some point, in fact, technology may run its useful course. After all, when local suppliers become widely known, they no longer need to be found through a World Wide Web.
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