As the U.S. focuses on improved nutrition, the Department of Agriculture has identified food deserts, areas where consumers have little access to quality meat and produce. The next step in this process has been to establish food hubs, a new business model which allows small and midsize producers a way to bring their products into local markets. The model has been established in over 100 U.S. cities and towns to date and new marketing initiatives are playing a key role in raising awareness of these efforts.
The U.S.D.A. defines a food desert as a location where 33% of the low-income population cannot easily get to a grocery store. For urban residents, the geographic market is limited to 1 mile while for rural residents, the region is 10 miles. At the same time, the U.S.D.A. has launched its Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food program. The agency is helping farmers connect with consumers in local markets through food hubs. Early survey results about food hubs reveal the follow data:
- Concentrated in the Midwest and Northeast
- Average annual sales of $1 million
- Average number of suppliers per hub is about 40
- Hubs are selling fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy and protein products
- About 40 of these hubs are currently located in food deserts
Successful food hubs require farmer training and planning, production , food aggregation and distribution, and a manager to organize these many components. These hubs also require good marketing campaigns. Typically, 90% of food hub organizers engage in marketing and promotions and about 40% of their suppliers do. Food hub primarily sells to restaurants and grocery stores but they also sell to farmer’s markets.
The locally grown food movement in the U.S. is expected to increase to $7 billion in 2012. As consumer interest expands, the programs will grow as will the promotional efforts.[Sources: Food Desert Locator. Ers.usda.gov. Web. 17 May 2011; USDA Identifies Infrastructure and Economic Opportunities for Regional Producers. Usda.gov. 19 Apr. 2011. Web. 17 May 2011; Regional Food Hubs. USDA.gov. Web. 17 May 2011]