Local foods are held in such high regard at Hannaford Supermarkets that the Scarborough, Maine-based retailer has created a new position to oversee the assortment.
Wendy Ward, the chain's local sourcing specialist, serves as an ambassador and resource for local farmers and product makers.
Ward's position is one of several new components to Hannaford's “Close to Home” initiative, which highlights locally farmed and produced foods and beverages. The chain has also created a designated local rack in the Center Store section of 122 of its stores; started using product “bib” tags to mark every “Close to Home” product on shelf; and launched a Close to Home newsletter and an interactive map at Hannaford.com  that shows the locations of local vendors.
“We are doing more to call out local product offerings,” chain spokesman Michael Norton told SN.
The chain even designated the week of April 25 this year as “local” week. Extensive sampling of local products and in-store appearances by local producers were among the events held during the celebration.
Such efforts are making an impression, according to Norton.
“Our research indicates that more customers are aware of the variety of local products that Hannaford carries,” he said. “Their interest in our local offering is an integral part of how we go to market.”
Hannaford works with about 600 local farmers and producers. Along with fruits, vegetables, dairy and other perishables, items marked “Close to Home” include grocery offerings like maple syrup, honey, baked beans and flour.
Along with Hannaford, a growing number of other retailers are differentiating themselves in a highly competitive market by spotlighting local foods.
Whole Foods Market, for instance, puts profiles and locations of local growers on its website. Among them is North Fork Potato Chips, a company in Long Island, N.Y., that runs much of its farm equipment on biodiesel fuel created from the byproducts of the chip-making process.
Storewide promotions are another way retailers are heightening awareness of their local assortment.
Dorothy Lane Market, Dayton, Ohio, just kicked off a summer-long “Eat Local” promotion. All those who purchase 10 local products through Sept. 1 with their loyalty card will be automatically entered into a drawing for a $50 store gift card.
Participating items are identified with “Eat Local” shelf tags and product stickers. “Eat Local” is emphasized throughout the store in other ways, including green balloons emblazoned with the “Eat Local” logo at the checkout.
The retailer uses strict criteria for what qualifies as a local product: All ingredients must be grown within a 250-mile radius of Dayton. That excludes, say, a peanut butter processed nearby, but made from Georgia peanuts.
The criteria is also why the assortment includes mostly meat, dairy and produce. But Center Store also plays a role. Among the items that meet Dorothy Lane's criteria are Sunny Slope Orchard's applesauce and a private-label honey made by Al Tuttle, a Miami Valley beekeeper.
The local community is even represented in the wine department in the form of cabernet sauvignon, syrah and other varietals from Kinkead Ridge Winery in Ripley, Ohio.
Another dry grocery vendor is Mint Brook Meadow Teas in Dayton. Dorothy Lane started selling its bagged peppermint, spearmint and other herbal tea several years ago.
“We grow it here. We package it here. We ship it from here,” Dan Tropea, Mint Brook's owner, told SN.
As a small company with no advertising budget, Mint Brook relies heavily on Dorothy Lane's support, said Tropea.
“We appreciate all the promotion they give to us,” he said.
Dorothy Lane draws attention to the assortment with a farmers' market held in the parking lot at each location during the summer. This year's farmers' market will be held at its Springboro store on July 24; Washington Square, Aug. 7; and Oakwood, Aug. 21.
“The farmers' market gives all our local vendors the opportunity to come and talk to our shoppers and sample their products,” Barbara Collins, assistant to Dorothy Lane's marketing vice president, told SN.
One of the newest additions to the local assortment is private-label canned tomatoes. Available under the Dorothy Lane Market brand in 14- and 28-ounce sizes, they are made from tomatoes grown and canned just 40 miles away in northern Ohio.
The tomatoes and other items are featured in a new “Eat Local” brochure Dorothy Lane has created to educate shoppers about the benefits of eating local.
“Why eat local?” the brochure reads. “It supports the livelihood of our local family-farming community … and reduces our carbon footprint.”
Another way Dorothy Lane is supporting the local farming community is by participating in a community supported agriculture program.
Shoppers who join the “Farm2Fork Fresh” CSA get weekly boxes of fresh locally grown food for 20 weeks. Membership costs $25 per week, plus an annual membership fee of $35. The program launched June 10.
The boxes are available for pickup each Thursday at all three Dorothy Lane locations.
Each box contains fruits and vegetables from about 30 local farms in the Miami Valley, as well as from Indiana, Kentucky and elsewhere in Ohio.
Along with fruits and vegetables, boxes will periodically contain locally grown herbs, flowers and decorative gourds. Members also receive the Farm2Fork Fresh CSA newsletter, which includes information on preparing local foods, storage tips and stories from participating farmers.