Ottawa – A new report has found that local food sales produce significant economic benefits.
The Conference Board of Canada’s Centre for Food in Canada defines local food as: food consumed as close to where it is produced and processed as is reasonably possible, taking into account regional differences in seasonality and availability.
The report, which is called Cultivating Opportunities: Canada’s Growing Appetite for Local Food, found that the economic impact of local food systems is most significant in Quebec and Ontario.
“Local food is a growing part of the Canadian food system and interest has surged in recent years,” says Michael Bloom, vice-president, Organizational Effectiveness and Learning.
“What we’re finding is that there is room to expand the role of local food systems in Canada, and that in doing so, there are significant economic benefits to be realized.”
In fact the report says food grown and consumed locally across Canada should be more deeply integrated into the broader national food distribution system. This move would benefit local producers and ultimately the whole food economy, says the report.
Most food grown locally in Canada is currently sold through large retail chains and major distributors within the food system, a pattern that is likely to continue.
The report found that across Canada 20 per cent of food is consumed within the same province in which it is produced, a widely-used definition of local food.
Quebec leads with 29 per cent of the province’s overall food production (in total dollar value) being consumed by Quebecers.
In Ontario, 24 per cent of food produced (by value) is eaten within the province.
Locally produced food also makes up a substantial share of the food consumed in B.C. (16 per cent) and Nova Scotia (13 per cent).
In addition the report found that:
• Interest in local food is being driven by concerns about quality, health and nutrition, food safety, local economics and farmers, and the environment.
• The bulk of local food in Canada is sold through large retail chains and major distributors, a pattern that is expected to continue in the future.
• Local food systems have economic benefits for a wide range of businesses. The largest economic benefits go to small and medium sized producers, as well as retailers and food service operators that focus on niche and premium markets.
• Local food is not a stand-alone solution to public concerns about the food system. Non-local food plays an important role in providing Canadians with access to a wide variety of products; Canada also benefits from global trade in food.
Consumers indicate that some of their motivation for purchasing local food is to support their local economy and farmers.
Many also believe that local produce is fresher than alternatives. Availability and convenience, as well as the price of some local food products, are the main barriers preventing consumers from buying local food.
The report recommends a number of actions that could support local food systems.
• Provide small and medium producers with additional information and guidance on direct marketing and selling local products to large retailers in the broader food system.
• Retailers, food service operators and distributors should extend their work with local producers to increase the availability and visibility of local food, and label these products as local.
• Governments – both provincial and local – could expand their leadership in local food marketing and labeling initiatives.
• Public sector institutions could make procurement of local food a priority when cost-effective and efficient to do so.