Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems

Research Papers

What does ‘local’ mean in the grocery store? Multiplicity in food retailers' perspectives on sourcing and marketing local foods

Jonnie B. Dunnea1, Kimberlee J. Chambersa1 c1, Katlyn J. Giombolinia1 and Sheridan A. Schlegela1

a1 Department of Environmental and Earth Sciences, Willamette University, 900 State St, Salem, OR 97301, USA.


Local food systems are comprised of networks of actors that work to ensure the sustainability of food supplies within communities. While local food has typically been promoted through direct marketing strategies such as farmers' markets and community-supported agriculture (CSA), retail stores are increasingly carrying and marketing local foods in response to consumer demand and market potential. Given the frequency with which consumers shop at grocery stores, as well as the portion of consumers' food purchases made at these locations, these stores may play a significant role in the success of local agriculture and the shaping of ideology about what is ‘local’. We conducted 27 semi-structured interviews with representatives of food retailers known to source and market local foods in the four major urban centers of Oregon's Willamette Valley. Our results reveal that grocers' perceptions of local food vary significantly from one another. Additionally, our results differed in comparison to the published literature on consumers' and producers' ideas of what constitutes local. Food retailers identified varying distances (frequently a region including several states) that they consider local, as well as diverse reasons for choosing to source and market local foods (most commonly supporting the local economy). Some trends in the variation of responses relate to how the size and form of ownership of the grocery stores influence the level at which decisions are made. These wide-ranging perceptions outline many of the realities of the local food movement, as well as opportunities for change.

(Accepted August 11 2010)

(Online publication September 30 2010)


c1 Corresponding author: