Monday, April 19, 2010

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood

From Troy Michigan to Mid-Town Manhattan, milk men are making a comeback. But home delivery is just part of a larger trend of people going local, and it’s starting to go big. Post-recession many attitudes have reset, and a growing number of people are becoming increasingly concerned about the health of the products they buy, the environmental impact of their lives and feel genuinely good about supporting local businesses and organizations.

It all started with food. And, while organic food has recently made it onto most grocery store shelves, the movement originally developed from locally oriented co-ops and communities supporting independent organic farmers. People concerned with natural food have been shopping at farm stands for years, and for this community local is a part of their DNA. And, now that organic has become mainstream these core values are making their way into the popular consciousness along with the products themselves.

The perceived benefits of shopping locally go beyond concerns of quality and freshness. The trend appeals to their attitudes about the importance of community and living green. Shopping locally mitigates the environmental impact of moving food thousands of miles and thus concerns about carbon footprints. It also fulfills a desire to support small farmers and the local economy. These “localvores” find practical and emotional benefits buying local.

Grounded in a strong core of “believers,” this trend is steadily growing. Beyond organofiles and environmentalists, foodies and moms are getting into the trend, too. Today, people shop 5,000 farmer’s markets across the country, the result of more than 5% annually for the past five years, and “nearly 60% of consumers say they try to shop at a farmers market.

But, local isn’t just for fruit stands and apple picking. A new and unlikely champion of the local movement, Walmart is stepping up its efforts to support locally grown food in order to compete with stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. Aggressively supporting not only organic, but local farms as well, “Walmart says it wants to revive local economies and communities that lost out when agriculture became centralized in large states.” With major support like this, the local movement has serious potential for scale.

Beyond the dinner table initiatives are gaining ground encouraging consumers to buy locally grown goods and services. Earlier this year Business Week wrote that, “About 130 cities or regions now host ‘buy local’ groups, representing about 30,000 businesses, up from 41 in 2006.” Fueling this growth are organizations such as Local First, the 3/50 Project (begun just last March) and, which aim to educate consumers about thinking locally with their wallets and the big impact that small shifts in spending can have on their towns and neighborhoods.

Local is making waves in politics as well. A recent Zogby poll found that “52% [of people] paid the same amount of attention to local and national races,” and groups like Tea Party and Coffee Party USA show it’s clear people getting engaged, too. Spreading online, these organizations are growing locally with chapters and meetings in towns and cities across America.

Finally, from organic tea to tea parties, localvores and local activists may be more plugged in than you think. A recent study by Pew Internet suggests that, contrary to popular belief, “many internet technologies are used as much for local contact as they are for distant communication.” Further, evidence shows a strong correlation between digital literacy and local engagement that’s becoming increasingly apparent among young people, indicating some serious potential for continued growth. It's no secrete that services like CoupMe, Boston Tweet, Yelp and Four Square are making a serious impact by re-connecting people to their neighborhoods.

Implications for Brands:
1. Consumer’s have a new definition of healthy food. Beyond quality they are concerned with the health of the environment and their local economies.
2. Localvores derive real satisfaction from “living responsibly” and have a strong desire for community involvement.
3. Larger brands may find it particularly difficult to establish authentic and believable associations with locally minded consumers.
4. People are finding new ways to translate their virtual communities into real life groups, thus one of the best ways to reach locally minded consumers may be through Google and online forums.