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Why Roots Matter More

(excerpted)
The New York Times
Kim Severson
November 15, 2006

… (The) reach for food grown on smaller farms close to home is part of a larger trend that food industry analysts say is gaining ground among consumers who are willing to pay a little more for quality food. As a result, people who grow food on small farms or make artisanal cheese or other foods on a more regional scale are finding new eaters.

They are also forgoing traditional sales methods and marketing approaches. Instead of trying to break into large distribution chains and fighting for shelf space, they are finding that smaller is better, particularly if there is a good back story. … In California, a family that makes olive oil dropped out of many mainstream grocery stores in favor of farmers’ markets and Internet sales.

And at Tierra Farms, a 20-acre urban farm near Santa Rosa, Calif., sales are approaching $500,000 with a customer base made up mostly of people who live less than 30 miles away.…

“It’s more about the end product — Is it healthier? Does it taste better?” Ms. Demeritt said. (Laurie Demeritt is president of the Hartman Group, a market research company in Bellevue, Wash., specializing in health and nutrition.)

One attribute that does seem as important is geography.

“Local is important, but also important is the idea of locale,” she said. “There is a desire among consumers to support products that are grown, raised or produced in a special or significant place.”

Jamie Johansson, 38, tends 100-year-old Mission olive trees on 40 acres in Oroville, about an hour’s drive north of Sacramento. He now offers his Lodestar Farm olive oil ($17.95 for 16.9 ounces, shipping included) online or through a network of farmers’ markets and small grocery stores.

“It’s great for the family because we can still be farmers instead of salesmen,” he said….

“It’s grass-roots marketing, pure and simple,” he said. “People will bring a local gift like olive oil to Wisconsin or Utah so people can understand the place they are from.”

…But Mr. Johansson also relies on teaming up with other local producers to increase his reach online. Mr. Johansson is part of a coalition of more than 100 artisanal producers who pay a marketing company, Savor California, to maintain a Web site (savorcalifornia.com) and help them develop their product lines.

Jane St. Claire began Savor California in 2003 for producers and farmers who were not big enough for most distributors and who, in some cases, had no idea how to take their products to market. On the site, she runs descriptions with the products, typically emphasizing the people behind the product. The strategy plays into a trend that market researchers call “authenticity.”

Ms. St. Claire’s clients include Bellwether Farms, which was started by Cindy and Ed Callahan, a couple who gave up careers in medicine to raise sheep in Sonoma County, Calif., and make cheese that is now considered some of the best in the country.

Although some people interested in local products might not want to buy olive oil that has to be shipped 2,000 miles, others like knowing where their food comes from.

“People want that sense of place, whatever that place might be,” Ms. St. Claire said.



* To read the entire article, please go to www.nyt.com and search “Why Roots Matter More” in The New York Times archives.

 

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