The following is an excerpt from The Packer's Heartland Know Your Market section. Read the full feature HERE.
While the local produce trend is not specific to one region, Mike Orf, assistant vice president of produce operations for West Des Moines, Iowa-based Hy-Vee Inc. said it is definitely a part of the Midwest market. It is not new either, as he said the founders of Hy-Vee sent out trucks to collect local produce nearly 90 years ago.
Local sourcing is just as important today.
“(Homegrown)is one of the biggest bets we have invested in the over the last few years,” he said.
For Hy-Vee, the produce managers at store level are key to the program. “I think they all have recognized that this is being driven by the consumer, not the corporate office,” he said.
Hy-Vee operates out of eight states, he said, but procurement for local produce doesn’t ideally run through the chain’s distribution center.
“We think the thing that is most important about local is really hyper-local - products that don’t ever have to come up to our distribution center,” he said.
Hy-Vee works with about 260 growers in eight states for the local program. “That number continues to grow and sales are growing at a rapid pace,” he said.
Orf said Hy-Vee is building relationships with growers closest to the stores. “We think it is very important to be very ingrained in the community (where) our stores are,” he said.
“Our first option is that we do not want our stores buying home-grown product from our distribution center when they can buy them closer to their store.”
The Hy-Vee Homegrown label requires that the produce must be grown within 200 miles of the store. He said consumers want the trust factor of knowing where their food comes from, and they invest more trust in local growers.
More and more consumers also are aware of food miles, and homegrown produce signage can tell the consumer the distance from the farm to the store.”If it is working the way it should, we have signs like that up in our stores,” he said.
Orf said Hy-Vee values the work it takes to produce fruits and vegetables. “We want to be good partners and good neighbors with these folks,” he said.