GETTING IT THERE: UNDERSTANDING THE ROLE OF NEW ENGLAND FOOD DISTRIBUTORS IN PROVIDING LOCAL FOOD TO INSTITUTIONS

Publication
Farm to Institution, Supply Chains

Year of Publication:

2016

Authors:

Nessa Richman

Connecticut
Massachusetts
New Hampshire
Rhode Island
Vermont

Bringing healthy, locally produced food into institutions is an effective strategy to address social, economic, and environmental issues. Existing research suggests that farm to institution strategies may improve nutrition for students and patients, while also supporting local food producers. However, not much work is being done to track the progress of farm to institution strategies on local, state, or regional levels. This report summarizes the results of a 2015 New England-wide survey of food distributors designed to explore their perspectives on institutional demand for local products and identify the challenges and opportunities they face in serving this segment of the food market. The results of this survey show that responding New England food distributors play a significant role in how people eat both in and outside of institutional dining facilities. These respondents moved over a billion dollars worth of food in 2014. While the proportion of institutional sales to total sales varies widely between individual distributors, larger food distributors generally see institutions as a more 

integral part of their businesses. All survey respondents who serve institutions offer local products, but vary in their definition of local. Local product sales usually represent a high proportion of gross sales in smaller food distributors. Local sales in relation to gross sales declined as gross sales increased. New England food distributors generally serve a large number and variety of institutional clients, while procuring local products from many sources including individual producers, producer cooperatives, and local value-added processors. Overall, survey respondents have an overwhelmingly positive outlook on future sales of local products to institutions, suggesting that institutions will continue to grow and strengthen their farm to institution strategies in the coming years. However, the distributors reported several key challenges and barriers to selling local products to institutions, including the lack of consistent, year-round supply of local products and the high price point of local products for their customers. Photo by A. Perry Heller at Black River Produce The report concludes with recommendations for food distributors, government officials, funders and non-profits, and institutions to further farm to institution strategies in New England.

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