Food Processing Center


Date of this Version

June 2003




This report summarizes the initial findings of a survey of members of the Chefs Collaborative organization. The Chefs Collaborative is a national network of more than 1,000 members of the food community who promote sustainable cuisine by celebrating the joys of local, seasonal and artisanal ingredients. Many of the Chefs Collaborative members have significant expertise in purchasing locally grown food products. The purpose of this research and the following report is to 1) use the expertise gained by members of the Chefs Collaborative organization in order to help producers market their products to the foodservice industry and 2) to examine the opportunities and obstacles producers may encounter when approaching a restaurant or institution with locally grown products.

The survey was targeted to Chefs Collaborative members who have the greatest buying authority for the foodservice establishment. Ninety-one percent of the foodservice establishments surveyed were independently owned restaurants, while 8% were chain restaurants. Nearly half (49%) of the establishments surveyed were upscale full-service restaurants with 75% of the respondents holding the position of Chef at the establishment. The following conclusions illustrate how producers can use the research findings in this report when marketing their products to restaurants and institutions.

1. Purchasing locally grown food products can be profitable for foodservice establishments. Seventy-three percent of the foodservice establishments agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “purchasing locally grown food has a positive impact on my foodservice establishment’s bottom line profits.” A producer can use this information to show that, based on a survey of a particular group of foodservice establishments, purchasing locally grown products can be profitable.

2. Chef Collaborative members prefer to purchase direct from a farmer. When given several alternatives from which to purchase products for their establishment, 57% of the respondents would prefer to purchase direct from a farmer by either receiving direct shipments from the farm or by picking up their products at the farm.

3. Awareness of the attributes that foodservice establishments take into consideration when making food purchases will increase a producer’s likelihood of success. The attributes that foodservice establishments ranked as very to extremely important when making a purchasing decision were a product’s quality, a product’s taste, the knowledge of how a product is raised or grown, a product’s freshness, the ability to guarantee consistent quality, strict adherence to food safety, a thorough knowledge of the producer’s product and its uses, and the ability to deliver the quantity needed by the establishment. Producers must address these attributes when marketing their products to foodservice establishments.

4. The Chefs Collaborative members identified specific reasons for purchasing locally grown food and the factors that motivate them to continue to purchase from local farmers and ranchers. Producers should use this data when approaching a foodservice establishment to make a sale.
Based upon their establishment’s experiences with locally grown or produced food products, the Chefs Collaborative members’ reasons for initially purchasing locally grown products and for continuing to purchase local include:
• Locally grown foods have higher or better quality.
• Locally grown products are fresher.
• Positive relationships have developed with producers.
• Customer requests have been received for locally grown products, especially after carrying local foods for a period of time.
• The availability of unique or specialty products.

5. Obstacles to purchasing locally grown food were identified by Chefs Collaborative Members. While it is important to be aware of the advantages of purchasing locally grown food in order to help sell local products to foodservice establishments, producers need to be able to anticipate the obstacles that can and will be raised when marketing their products. Again, this group of establishments has a mission or belief that many foodservice establishments do not have. It is very important to take note of the obstacles that they see. A producer should anticipate potential obstacles before his or her first sales call on a restaurant or institution and know how to counter that obstacle. The most significant obstacles identified by the respondents include:

A. Distribution and Delivery—getting the right product in the right quantity to the right place at the right time.
• Consistent availability
• Reliable supply
• Availability and knowing what locally grown products are available in their area
• Complicated ordering
• Too many purveyors (establishments want fewer invoices to pay)

B. Competitive Or Pricing Comparable To Other Purveyors

Only 11% mentioned seasonality as an obstacle. One interpretation of this data could be that some of the establishments in the sample are featuring locally grown foods only when they are in season by featuring these products on a “seasonal menu”. This promotional technique may influence their customers to frequent the restaurant while these items are “in season”.

6. Chefs Collaborative members have promoted the use of locally grown food. Ninety percent of the foodservice establishments surveyed promote the use of locally grown food on their menu or in their promotional material at one time or another, and 49% of those who had promoted consider the promotion to be very effective.

7. Foodservice establishments need to be able to easily source and purchase locally grown products. As indicated above, members of the Chefs Collaborative cited product availability and/or knowing what locally grown products are available in their area as a product sourcing and purchasing challenge. In fact, four out of the five top ranked obstacles (see section 2.6) have to do with the ordering and delivery of products. In addition, 38% stated that they would increase locally grown purchases if a greater quantity or variety local products were available and one-third would increase their locally grown purchases if a larger variety of local products were available. Consequently, availability and delivery are major issues in increasing the amount of locally grown products purchased by foodservice (and most likely retail) establishments. These establishments also need to be able to easily source the local products available in their area. This awareness will lead to more locally grown products purchased.

The data suggests that there is a real need for a clearinghouse or database of locally grown products to provide simple and easy access for interested foodservice (or retail) personnel. These clearinghouses will also help a restaurant or institution find backup sources for products they are buying when their current purveyor’s supply is limited.

Although quantitative information is presented in this report, the data is projectable only to the members of the Chefs Collaborative organization with buying authority and is not projectable to the population as a whole. Producers should use the findings of this report when developing their marketing plan for product introductions and marketing products to foodservice buyers and as a guide to approaching independent restaurants and institutions with their product line.

The report begins with the results of an assessment of attributes and how the respondents rank the importance of these attributes when selecting the brands or products they purchase. The report then turns its focus to the foodservice establishment’s experience in purchasing local products, including where and why they have purchased local ingredients, as well as the obstacles they have faced. The report also discusses how the establishments promote the use of locally grown food. Finally, the report identifies the locally grown products that have the greatest foodservice market potential.

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