Now, More Than Ever, Supporting Local Business Matters


The COVID-19 crisis has changed many of our behaviours in a short period of time. When it comes to the foods we eat, perhaps the most noticeable change has been the shift in how and where our meals are prepared. The NPD Group/CREST reports that the commercial-restaurant industry in Canada lost more than 300-million visits in April. The shutdown of restaurant dining-rooms across the country and stay-at-home orders have forced families to re-discover their kitchens and begin preparing meals for themselves again.

When choosing which restaurant to visit when dining out, Canadians have always had an eye on where their food comes from. Choosing a restaurant that offers locally sourced foods is a top consideration among restaurant visitors, factoring into 15 per cent of all restaurant visits in the pre-COVID-19 data. The most notable difference among this group of consumers is age. Local-minded restaurant patrons skew to the 45-and-over cohorts. Other restaurant-selection criteria that are top of mind include demand for Canadian-sourced products and ingredients with reduced salt, sugar and cholesterol. So, a local-centric marketing campaign can appeal to this customer base with messaging around ideas of healthy dining.

Local-minded customers are more likely to visit full-service restaurants. This is likely due as much to their age as their search for local sourcing. Regardless, like the rest of the population, about two thirds of this cohort’s visits are going through quick-service restaurants (QSR). Their lives are just as busy and they have the same cravings as the rest of the population. This creates an opportunity for smaller QSR chains to attract this unique, older and more affluent crowd with some local messaging. The large QSR chains that dominate the market do many things well, but building localized supply chains is not necessarily one of them. Local sourcing is is an area where smaller chains and independents can, and should, strive to differentiate themselves.

It’s too soon to say for certain how much the demand for local sourcing will change due to the current climate, but according to the results of The NPD Group’s COVID-19 Foodservice Sentiment Study, demand for locally sourced foods is only going to rise. More than one third (39 per cent) of respondents source local products because they feel these are safer. Moreover, half of all respondents plan to visit local and independent restaurants to support the local economy once the restrictions are lifted. The challenge is that the older cohort most likely to support the local economy is also the cohort that’s the most concerned about returning to restaurants. This will require a regimen of physical distancing and hygiene measures that I know the industry is already looking to provide to a cautious public.

It’s important to note younger cohorts also seek out local- and Canadian-sourced food items, just not as much as their parents. Instead, they show a propensity towards organic, sustainable and cage-free food options. They’re also more inclined to seek foods that include protein, vegetable content and plant-based ingredients. For operators and suppliers alike who are interested in maximizing their local messaging, it would make sense to include any pair of the above messages. For example, local foods are often considered more environmentally friendly. This opens up the option of combining two key messages around local and sustainable, which will be well received by all age cohorts.

Local-minded consumers are proportionately distributed across all regions of the country. This is a rare occasion where all Canadians can agree on something — well, maybe not all Canadians. Residents in the seven largest urban centres are less inclined to search for local. It seems the further removed we are from the source of our food, the less connection we have to its source.

The industry’s struggles during this crisis have been well publicized and, in response, consumers are being encouraged by industry leaders, governments and influencers to buy local. Whether this means support for a local independent restaurateur, a local food supplier or a local farmer, it makes little difference. The message is clear. Being local-minded is right for the times — and right for business.

Written by Vince Sgabellone

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