Local food, the latest retail trend, has become more important in consumers’ minds than organic foods or sustainable practices, says Greg Corrigan, the senior director of produce and floral at Raley’s supermarket chain.
Over the past 12 to 18 months, it has become a high priority with Raley’s customers, he said. “It’s probably the foremost trend we’re facing right now, not only with us doing it ourselves and playing up locally grown product, but farmers’ markets are taking advantage of it and taking their share of the market,” he said.
Corrigan will take part in two panel discussions on marketing and sales during the Washington State Horticultural Association’s annual meeting on December 6, one of which will focus on the local-food phenomenon and its impacts on the Washington fruit industry.
So, what is “local” produce? To Raley’s, which is an upscale grocery chain with 133 stores in California and northern Nevada, it is anything that can be delivered from the producer to Raley’s distribution center in Sacramento, California, within one day. Corrigan said his company does a lot of business directly with growers and features them in its inserts and radio commercials.
To consumers, local food symbolizes high quality and freshness, Corrigan believes, and there’s also a perception that it should be less expensive because it’s not been transported far.
Because of the downturn in the economy, shoppers are also becoming more price conscious, he said. Being a high-end retailer, Raley’s is feeling the impacts of that more than the price operators, and low-price chains such as Wal-Mart and WinCo Foods are gaining market share. But Raley’s is not about to compromise on quality and is maintaining its high standards, he said.
“We’ve got to the point of reducing our margin expectations to keep things moving. We’re meeting them halfway, and not continuing to take the margins on a lot of different items. It’s a two-way street.”
Corrigan will also discuss the relationship between the producer and the retailer, which must be based on trust and be flexible, he believes. “We deal with changing situations in our business daily, from weather patterns and supply and demand issues,” he said. “An open relationship and good dialogue are very important.”
How does a potential supplier forge that relationship?
“We can’t do business with everybody, so we tend to be selective,” he said. “And some people get frustrated trying to get the door open a crack. But that doesn’t mean people shouldn’t be persistent if they have good quality.”
Potential suppliers tend to throw everything at the retailer in an effort to make them a customer, he said. “But it should be based on what they do best and what they can offer.”
Corrigan has been in the produce business for 26 years and has been director of produce at Raley’s since 2000. He is active in produce industry affairs and is a board member of the Fresh Produce and Floral Council. •