Categorized | Agriculture

Farming with Love: Fourth annual analysis of local produce

Ken Love | Special to Hawaii 24/7

From 2009 to 2012, I have tracked the weekly food ads to discern any trends or major changes in the percentages of local produce to imported produce advertised in West Hawaii Today.

The Big Island stores monitored include: KTA, Choice Mart, Foodland and Safeway.

For 2012 the number of items advertised:

* KTA

Total Items Advertised: 568

Percent of Local Items Advertised:

2012: 47%

2011: 45%

2010: 43%

2009: 44%

* Choice Mart

Total Items Advertised: 468

Percent of Local Items Advertised:

2012: 53%

2011: 55%

2010: 59%

2009: 49%

* Foodland

Total Items Advertised: 758

Percent of Local Items Advertised:

2012: 34%

2011: 25%

2010: 25%

2009: 26%

* Safeway

Total Items Advertised: 709

Percent of Local Items Advertised:

2012: 14%

2011: 18%

2010: 16%

2009: 12%

This is a substantial increase for Foodland, if we look at figures from 2009 to 2012 for local produce advertised as a percent of total produce advertised.

KTA: 7 percent increase
Choice Mart: 9 percent decrease
Foodland: 31 percent increase
Safeway: 15 percent increase

This shows that the ever-increasing focus on “Buy Local It Matters” has had an effect — primarily due to increased consumer awareness, I suspect. This awareness comes from a variety of sources including campaigns from the state Department of Agriculture, efforts of state commodity groups to promote and brand locally grown and a good deal is owed to bloggers around the state who monitor and report on local food related events.

Choice Mart’s decrease, although somewhat surprising, might be explained by a number of reasons, but primarily it reports a much harder time buying many of the local items they had previously been the only ones to purchase.

These stores have had an increasingly difficult time to purchase needed quantities of local bananas as other stores, have increased their sales and used bananas as a tool for local awareness.

The overall percentage of local produce advertised by Choice Mart continues to be greater than the other stores.

Foodland’s 31 percent increase over three years, to 34 percent, or 258 local items advertised, is a welcome relief from its past performances.

It still need to be aware of misleading advertising and placing imports under local signage. The company slogan “Local First! Always the Best” is of course a welcome sentiment, but when the advertisement below that slogan is for only imported produce, the meaning is lost.

This particular ad was from January 2012, during the height of the local avocado and citrus season, when local supplies are plentiful. This is why many local growers do not like shopping at Foodland.

Safeway achieved a 15 percent increase in the proportion of ads being local items. This still represents a dismal total of only 98 local items out of a total of 709. Clearly being integrated into the farming community is not a priority although they have had a few surprising positive ads.

Notable weeks:

In early September, Safeway surprised us by promoting nine of 10 produce items as being local. This shows that it is possible to focus more on local items but sadly the following week was only one of 10 and week after zero for 11.

Safeway has yet to really learn the value of local produce to the community it serves.

In October, Foodland/Sack N Save and Safeway were promoting imported tangerines and imported avocados during the height of the local season. Prices were considerably lower than local cost of production. Was the imported produce dumped on Hawaii?

Foodland was reprimanded online for offering these tangerines under the local produce signage in both Honolulu and Kona. This was not the first time and happened the following week with imported avocados.

This sort of action should be fineable and the state should be able to take action and have the power to enforce correct labeling as diligently as they enforce tax collection or gas station pump accuracy.

During the first week of November, Safeway was advertising Korean pears as locally grown. This was turned into the state HDOA, which contacted Safeway officials. They were told to correct this and place a sign in the store to apologize for the error, which they did.

The same week they were selling imported pineapple and imported papaya. There were no stickers on the fruit and no lack of county of origin labeling on the papaya and pineapple, but it was obvious they were not locally grown.

This based on variety and condition of the “jet lagged” fruit.

In December, Foodland was again promoting imported avocados during the height of the local Sharwil season. Perhaps this is because the primary wholesaler, Armstrong, which will not sell locally grown avocados.

This is a problem that surely needs to be addressed.

During this year-end time period and into March, KTA and Choice Mart promoted local avocados while Foodland and Safeway continually advertised imports.

Safeway and Foodland also advertised imported mangoes in May although Foodland did mention local lychee.

In a June advertisement, Safeway used the names of the farms whose produce they sold. This included Aloun, Nakamoto, and Kawano, only they continued to push the imported avocados.

One would hope Safeway could continue these more “local” oriented promotions year-around.

Clearly the awareness in general of localvore movements, “Buy Local It Matters” and “Know your Farmer” campaigns has contributed to increases in advertising and promotion of local produce. Sustaining this over a period of time is another story.

Grocery stores must commit to more sustainable sales of local produce. Growers must commit to ever increasing quality and quantities for the stores.

Help from state “powers that be” to convince wholesalers to do a better job marketing local produce is something that would be most welcome. For some locally owned wholesalers not to sell locally grown avocados is simple unconscionable.

The local food movement in Hawaii is gaining ground but its still hard fought and inch-by-inch.

(Ken Love is a Kona resident and specialist in tropical fruit horticulture and market development. Love works on sustainability issues for Hawaii farmers, value-added product development and farmer-chef relations. Contact Love at kenlove@kona.net)

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