There’s been a flood of information lately about local product merchandising.
We’ve heard all about how it helps support communities and create exclusive merchandising opportunities for retailers.
What’s sometimes less apparent is the behind-the-scenes logistics involved, especially deep retailer-supplier partnerships and the need for rapid distribution on the fresh side.
The fresh side, in fact, offers the best example of this behind-the-scenes activity. Local is big business in fresh.
In SN’s 2014 Health and Wellness Survey , some 85% of retailer respondents said they sell or purchase local products, and the biggest segment — 68% — pointed to produce/floral.
The fresh side of local was illuminated during an educational session at the recent NGA Show  in Las Vegas.
Mike Beal, COO for Ball’s Food Stores , based in Kansas City, Kan., said his operation “wants to be known as the company that brings in product from a lot of local farmers in Kansas City.”
The company’s “Buy Fresh, Buy Local” program is based on that goal, helping the retailer battle “big behemoths” in the retail world.
Balls works with about 150 family farmers located within about 250 miles of its area. Its promise to customers is largely based on speed: Getting products from field to store quickly, usually within 24 hours.
This involves deep, ongoing partnerships. Balls frequently offers to purchase the entire yield from a family farm “because we want those farmers to remain in business and we want to be known as their primary customer.” The relationship also includes sponsoring farmers’ markets in front of Ball’s stores to showcase farmers and their products.
Read more: Promoting organics boosts sales at Ball's 
Another independent operator, King’s Food Markets , Parsippany, N.J., was showcased at the same NGA session for many of the same local merchandising attributes.
Paul Hamilton, field merchandiser for produce and floral, said his company came up with an enhanced way of merchandising local products from New Jersey farmers.
“We built a system to get product from the farm to the stores in 24 hours or less,” he said.
Kings worked with the farmers to develop a rapid distribution system. It includes ordering product the day before, having it picked early the next day, followed by rapidly getting it onto trucks.
“Timeliness is important in fresh; it builds your image,” he said. “Customers correlate local with freshness.”
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Kings Food Markets also focuses on timeliness in its seafood business. It’s “Top of the Catch” program offers a premium price to fishermen to get the last group of fish caught during a trip, because that represents freshness.
Speed and distribution may be invisible to consumers, but shoppers still want to hear the stories behind products and farmers. Fortunately, retailers have proven themselves to be very good at telling those stories in recent years. That enables them to support their logistics efforts with marketing muscle.
All of which means that local is emerging from its stereotype as a niche business into something with far more sweeping ambitions.
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