The popularity of local food is extending from a fad into something much more permanent. Consumers want to know where their food comes from and who produces it. They place a high value on personal contact with local producers and are willing to pay a fair price for locally grown food items.
In this phenomenon, consumers who favour local food emphasise interaction, trust, and community spirit. These views emerged in a study conducted as part of the project LähiSos (short for ‘Lyhyet läheiset ketjut – lähiruoka ja sosiaalinen pääoma’, meaning ‘short local chains – local food and social capital’), which examined whether the popularity of local food stems from the properties of the product itself or is rooted in other factors instead. The study was carried out through online discussions arranged with the companies and their customers.
– For local-food companies and networks, the factors brought up by the customers who buy local food constitute the kind of social capital that is difficult for larger companies to amass. To boost their business, local-food companies should nurture these aspects of their operations, says Leena Erälinna, manager of the LähiSos project.
Over the past few years, the marketing channels for local food have moved online, and communications now take place mainly via social media. More than a hundred REKO networks operate in Finland, with more eggs now sold through the aid of Facebook than any single provider can produce.
– Advances in digitalisation offer small companies an excellent opportunity to interact with their customers more easily. And the opposite is true also: customers can find producers – and also each other, says Erälinna.
Interaction with the producer increases consumer trust
Local food brings together consumers with similar priorities in a natural way. Social-media networks give rise to local-food communities, in which people share tips, information, and recipes. Through these networks, consumers can find more information on the products than shops can offer.
– For small companies, a social-media presence is a must because of the visibility it affords, and consumers assign great value to personal contact with the producer. Such direct interaction increases consumer trust, explains Erälinna.
Contact with the producer also gives consumers a more in-depth picture of the food’s origins and its production methods. According to Erälinna, there is no doubting that consumers appreciate trust and transparency in production and are also willing to pay more for foods produced in line with these principles.
At the same time, various forms of sharing-based economy, such as community-supported agriculture, are opening new avenues for producers, who can now use different models to offer their services and expertise to busy consumers who want to invest in ecological and healthy choices. Erälinna says that a sharing economy also contributes to greater appreciation for food and its production.
A new online publication offers handy tips to local-food entrepreneurs
The goal for the study was to examine the significance of social capital and sustainability, the phenomenon itself, and the ways it can be utilised in the interaction between local-food companies and their customers. The findings have now been compiled in an online publication that offers tips and information to producers, available in Finnish via www.lähiruokakoukuttaa.fi.
– The online brochure is intended mainly for local-food producers and those who are just starting out, along with local-food networks. The publication introduces the central elements of social capital that play a major role in the success of local-food companies. It also provides information on the new business and funding opportunities offered by the sharing economy, explains Erälinna.
Co-ordinated by the University of Turku, the national LähiSos project is being carried out in collaboration with Häme University of Applied Sciences and Jyväskylä University of Applied Sciences in Kanta- and Päijät-Häme, Central Finland, Northern Savonia, Southwest Finland, and the capital region. The two-year project is funded by the Food Chain project of the Finnish Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and the Central Union of Agricultural Producers and Forest Owners (MTK).
Leena Erälinna, +358 40 684 7450, firstname.lastname@example.org