COVID-19's Impact on Local Food
2020 had the potential to be a banner year for local, artisanal food producers. In many geographic regions, small brick and mortar stores were beginning to see a surge in revenue at the start of the new year.
Why? Terms like clean eating,” “regenerative agriculture,” and “farm to fork” have come to the forefront of our vernacular, and those terms are major buzzwords for artisan food shops. After all, there’s nothing like a beautiful loaf of handcrafted sourdough, drizzled in sundried tomato olive oil, to showcase the importance and warmth of local food.
Unfortunately, the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic brought the trajectory of that smooth, shiny potential to a grinding halt.
As the economy changes rapidly in a matter of weeks and even days, it’s important for business owners to understand how they can change, too, to meet the demand. After all, the demand for high-quality food has not gone away - it has merely shifted.
COVID-19’s Impact on Local Food
Look around at the grocery store shelves.
While there are some foods that may be hard to come by from local sources - you aren’t going to grow your own olive trees for organic olive oil in northern Maine, for instance - the reality is that much of a grocery store’s inventory comes from halfway across the country (or the world).
Aside from being unnecessary, it’s impractical. The benefit of COVID-19 is that it has made us, as consumers, recognize this impracticality.
As food shortages arise not from a lack of product but from a lack of facilities to process, package, and transport said product, artisanal producers have some room to profit. If you had an established market for olive oil, for instance, in your local community before the outbreak, you will likely be able to continue supplying those products because you won’t be as reliant on external factors to get your products out.
And if you weren’t established, there’s no better time to begin selling your products locally. Consumers are willing to pay higher prices for their food (although food producers shouldn’t unnecessarily increase the costs of their products, as this is unethical) and are more interested in where their food comes from.
For brick and mortar shops, that’s a major win.
For example, statistics published by the growers association Coldiretti have shown that Italians (along with other groups of consumers not targeted in the study) are purchasing more non-perishable food than ever before. Sales of olive oil alone have jumped by 22 percent, while those of pasta (olive oil’s real best friend) have jumped an impressive 51 percent.
As more people cook from home, shoppers have focused on staples like olive oil, pasta, and other ingredients to fill their cupboards. Local foods - but especially foods with long shelf lives, like oils and vinegars - are seeing the greatest increase in demand.
The downside of the pandemic, of course, is that more people are staying home and very few businesses are classified as “essential.” If you’re unlucky enough to own one of those “inessential” businesses, that could mean a loss of revenue if you aren't able to get creative.
How Artisanal Food Producers Can Respond to the Shift
Appealing More to Aspiring Home Chefs
A silver lining of the pandemic is that people are forced to stay home. Therefore, they are forced to learn how to cook.
If you sell artisanal food, you’re in a great position to sell to these folks. You just have to change your marketing methods. Rather than targeting your sales to restaurants and other large, commercial buyers, you need to target your marketing materials to the average Joe.
Make sure your products are marketed with clear descriptions that tell the consumer not only why they’re great, but how they can help make life easier and better. In such a time of uncertainty, it’s crucial that your products comfort and help your customers. If you’re selling olive oil, how can that olive oil make life a little easier? It’s a versatile ingredient that has a long shelf life, so make sure you mention those benefits.
Here’s an example. Instead of selling your olive oil as “organic” or “non-GMO” why not tell the customer what that actually means? You can certainly use buzzwords like organic in your marketing, but make sure you list a few benefits of that, too.
Why is organic olive oil superior to traditional olive oil? Why, it doesn’t contain any preservatives or artificial ingredients that will leave you feeling bloated or hungrier after you’re done eating. Olive oil is also the perfect accompaniment to a classic spaghetti dinner - it’s a dish you can whip up in seconds after a busy day of telework!
Market directly to the customer - they need you and your business now more than ever.
Offering Delivery Services
Another way you can remain productive is to change how you sell your products. If you previously only sold in a brick and mortar fashion, you might want to consider adding delivery services. Especially now, that stores are beginning to open again, we still see delivery services in high demand. It has it's own category in yelp too.
This could mean a weekly meet-up where you drop off products to buyers (like a farmer’s market) or you could literally ship products right to a customer’s doorstep. Offering delivery services is easier than it sounds, especially when you consider that the US Postal Service has plenty of options to help small businesses save money.
If you’re concerned about how your product will hold up in the mail, start by offering delivery services only in your local region. That will let you play around with cooling during shipment, along with over variables, before you commit to shipping cross-country.
Expanding Online Offers
If you’re selling an artisanal product like soap or other personal care products, you’re probably already familiar with the need to market your products to an online audience. There tends to be less recurring local demand for these sorts of products.
However, if you’re a food producer, online sales might be a totally new beast. Take the time to craft some thoughtful product descriptions that truthfully yet favorably depict your products. Look into online vendors that will charge minimal fees to list your products, too.
And don’t forget to take plenty of pictures of your gorgeous products!
How to Make Your Business Rock-Solid in the Face of a Crisis
It’s no secret that the entire world is undergoing a serious paradigm shift when it comes to the way we think about our food. Local food equals food security, and as an artisan food producer (or a food producer of any kind) it is your economic and moral responsibility to strengthen your business in such a time of transition.
Any kind of change can be stressful - especially when that change happens overnight, as it has with the pandemic. But part of being a good business owner is in being flexible. You have to learn how to go with the flow if you want to be successful.
Another great way to strengthen your business - not just during a crisis but at any point in your career? Invest in your product. Don’t settle for cut-rate materials at cut-rate prices. Instead, opt for high-quality ingredients offered by companies who truly care about what you have to offer.
Here at Cibaria Store Supply, we know that a little goes a long way. We are the nation’s leading supplier of natural olive oils and balsamic vinegars from all over the world. With more than 23 different olive oils and 26 types of vinegars to choose from, we are a leading supplier of boutique olive oil and specialty food stores.
No matter what your goals might be for the next few months, Cibaria Store Supply is here to support you - and your business. We will help you to not only survive, but to thrive, during the changes.
- Karen Moore