Ask yourself, when shopping for fresh food, do you seek out and buy from local suppliers? – Or is your shopping exercise simply about filling your cart and checking off the items on your shopping list?

If your tendency is to choose local products over national brands and local producers over far off producers, you’re a part of an important market segment within fresh food. A segment your grocer is paying special attention to and is clamoring to understand better. You see, from the consumer’s point of view, buying from local suppliers often seems like a more responsible choice. Local food is often perceived to come from trusted suppliers, travels less food miles and pumps dollars back into the local economy. Local food is an attractive option for a large segment of the buying public.

Farmer’s markets, vertical farming, and inner city community gardens are evidence of this trend and cater to the perception that local food matters.

Traditional grocery stores, in their fresh departments, often highlight local food and even promote their support of local producers. From a recent survey of some of the major grocery store chains conducted here at iTradeNetwork, sourcing locally fresh food is a direct response to their customer’s desire. With support for the local economy as the number one driver to sell food produced close by.

But all food simply cannot be sourced locally. Throughout much of North America, food grown close to the large metropolitan areas is a summer/fall phenomenon. You just can’t grow lettuce in colder locations, during those short days of winter. That stalk of celery you purchased for the stuffing in your holiday turkey has a 95% chance of being from California or Arizona and about 88% of eaters in North America do not live near the major production areas. Keep in mind though that every farm is local to someone, it just may not be you.

Major grocers have also admitted that local providers and local sourcing programs are more difficult to manage too. Lacking sophisticated systems, adequate record keeping for food safety and traceability, smaller companies struggle to achieve the technical sophistication and efficiency of their mainstream competitors.

From our recent survey, iTradeNetwork customers have come to understand that locally grown food programs are a mainstay within their sourcing and merchandising efforts. And even though it’s challenging to manage, sourcing programs and in-store promotions have established a heightened identity for some local farms. While supply chain programs have always relied on the emergency backfills from local production when short-term deficiencies occur, these local suppliers have become a mainstay of sourcing teams and the retail experience.

But local food has other challenges as well. In the fast-casual food industry, you’ve most likely read about the issues at Chipotle. They have long promoted their tight relationship with local food. It’s hard to know for sure how those outbreaks started, but a decentralized sourcing policy, lax in-store hygiene and a lack of strictly enforced food safety procedures may have led to these nation-wide food borne illness outbreaks. To Chipotle’s credit, they seem to be making significant changes, even though their stock price is still bumping along at 50% of its former value.

With the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) upon us, the new food law of the land, local food has been addressed by a completely different set of rules. For example, in the produce rule, local fresh food is exempt so long as it does not travel more than 275 miles from where it was produced. There are labeling and documentation requirements for these local companies, and if a producer is in violation, their exempt status can be revoked.

But at the end of the day, if the consumers want local food, the consumers will get local food. Producers will grow, package and sell it, and grocers will procure and stock it.

Locally grown food has truly come a long way.