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From Whole Foods to Piggly Wiggly, Retailers Go the Distance in Trumpeting Local

Perhaps it’s the ultimate proof of how embedded local marketing has become at retail. Two natural food retailers chose to parody the concept online for April Fools Day. A Whole Foods headline read: “Buy Local: Urban Salts,” with photos illustrating “gently used road salt” and “slurry salt,” among others. PCC Natural Markets promoted a “pinup calendar” of local producers with a beefcake photo of a farmer as poster boy. 

Make no mistake, local is no joke. It’s continuing to grow as a serious business hook both for sourcing of products and marketing of a retailer’s brand. Here are some of the latest directions:

• Local continues to outdo organic in consumer priorities, a trend that’s been evident for some time now. In a recent study conducted by Mintel, more than half the respondents surveyed (52%) put more emphasis on buying local produce than on choosing organic alternatives.

• Local products’ outreach, if done right, can launch a retailer on a solid footing when entering a community. Whole Foods Market recently held an open house on a farm in Columbia, S.C., to invite local farmers to bring samples of products in advance of the retailer opening a store in that area.

• Local has become a cornerstone of sampling events that can play to hometowns. Rouses, based in Thibodaux, La., has touted everything from oysters to jambalaya in cooking events held throughout southern Louisiana and the Mississippi Gulf Coast, according to a recent SN article. Similarly, H.E. Butt Grocery Co. just held a second annual in-store event that showcased foods from Texas, while Hiller’s Markets is promoting local products through a “Michigan
Showcase” initiative.

• Local exposure can figure as a secondary benefit in retailer promotions. Wal-Mart’s “Get On The Shelf” online contest invites businesses and individuals to submit products for the giant retailer to sell nationally, with the public voting for three winners. Interestingly, local press outlets around the country have been reporting on entrepreneurs in each of their areas who are competing.

• Local is an important enough platform on which to base a retailer’s entire marketing angle. Piggly Wiggly Carolina is debuting a new branding tag line: “Local Since Forever,” which broadcasts how the chain has been a local fixture since 1947.

While the local phenomenon was boosted by everything from environmental concerns to the economic downturn, there’s one thing that’s becoming increasingly clear about the trend: It’s now taken on a momentum all its own.

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