Wednesday, July 22

Restaurants, chefs and local foods

The utilisation of local food and avoidance of food miles is considered to be a good thing these days, it reduces the carbon footprint and is a way to encourage local agricultural development, away from the mass factory farming which people would hate, despite the low prices. And I am interested in this topic because of a new good friend, Madhu, the madman knifeman :).

Anyway, so what do you do? One idea is to utilise the services of your local chef.

So it was interest to read this paper. I quote the abstract:

Chefs have been recognized as potentially important partners in efforts to promote local food systems. Drawing on the diffusion of innovation framework we (a) examine the characteristics of chefs and restaurants that have adopted local foods; (b) identified local food attributes valued by restaurants; (c) examine how restaurants function as opinion leaders promoting local foods; (d) explored network linkages between culinary and production organizations; and (e) finally, we consider some of the barriers to more widespread adoption of local foods in the culinary community. Analyzing quantitative and qualitative data collected from interviews with individuals from 71 restaurants, we compare and contrast restaurants that utilize relatively large amounts of locally-produced ingredients with restaurants using few, if any, local products. Results reveal that chefs are most interested in intrinsic food qualities, such as taste and freshness, and less interested in production standards. As opinion leaders, chefs utilize signage, wait staff, and cooking classes to promote local foods; however, the diffusion process across restaurants, and between restaurants and producers, is limited by network associations. Structural barriers such as distribution problems and lack of convenience were identified as limiting more widespread use of locally-grown foods. We offer several implications of this research for further work that seeks to engage chefs as opinion leaders who are important to building greater support for local food systems.

The researchers come up with some very interesting results: I further quote:

Themes & Findings

Characteristics of sample restaurants: Early adopting, high volume users are more likely to operate moderately and expensively priced restaurants.

Local food attributes valued by restaurants: Taste was consistently reported as one of the most important purchasing criteria, regardless of level of local food use. Restaurants expressed a widespread view that local generally has superior taste attributes; Convenience and price are important purchasing criterion for No to Low volume users of local foods.High volume users were more willing to pay higher prices for local foods.All categories of restaurants expressed low concern for specific production standards (such as organic) and substantial trust and deference to the expertise of farmers.

Opinion leader restaurants communication methods: High volume users used menus, specials and wait-staff to promote and educate diners about local foods. Limiting factors to communication and opinion leadership include: supply inconsistency issues, cognitive limitations of customers, and time constraints.

Restaurant networks: None of the restaurants studied were members of production based organizations and interview reports indicate a bias toward local networks and direct relationships with local producers. High and Medium volume users were more likely to be members of professional chef organizations.All categories of restaurants had fairly high membership in local Chambers of Commerce.

Structural barriers: Perception of inadequate distribution infrastructure existed among all categories of restaurants.Preference among all categories for a local distributor. Many High volume users did report development of own food provisioning systems via direct relationships, but supply inconsistencies still existed.

This was done in Ohio, but looking at the data, methodology and results, to me it looks like you could see the similar behaviour all across the OECD world at least. But I am not clear why getting chef’s to sign up to local produce is going to push the normal grocery shopper (male or female) to purchase locally? Grocery shopping is a very complex buying behaviour, which struggles with cost and convenience much more than say local food miles. So while an interesting idea, I am not sure if this is going to work out broadly. Given a choice, specially in these recessionary times, local food which is more expensive, is going to be not that high up on the list. I quote from here:

British consumers who in the past were willing to pay a premium for organic, Fairtrade and eco-friendly goods are now turning their backs on buying ethical in favour of cheaper shopping bills, according to a survey. It is a trend that is likely to be long-term, according to research, which indicated that three in every five shoppers (69%) say they plan to continue cutting back on organic food after the downturn. Two-thirds (61%) claim they will seek to pay less for ethically sourced foods, such as Fairtrade, when the downturn ends.

Where do you end up? Go for factory farmed high carbon low cost food or locally sourced, organic, lower carbon cost food? Short term gain versus long term gain? Not sure what the answer is…

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