Restaurant Briefing: A Look at Local Sourcing

Promote Your Business Restaurant Industry By American Express January 7, 2015

Local sourcing of restaurant foods and beverages is one of the hottest trends in foodservice; in fact, it’s one of Technomic’s 10 top trends for 2015. However, when it comes to restaurant food, the idea of sourcing from the restaurant’s region is a little hazy in the minds of consumers.

Consumers actually have more self-doubt about their understanding of local sourcing than did those polled two years ago, perhaps because more intense discussion of the issue has muddied the waters: in 2012, 86% expressed confidence that they understood the idea of local sourcing at least somewhat, compared to 72% today.

How Well Do You Know What 'Locally Sourced' Means?

By and large, today’s consumers have a stricter idea of “local” food than those polled in 2012. While 33% define a “local” food production radius as within 50 miles of the restaurant, almost as many (30%) gave a more limited range of 25 miles. Two years ago, consumers were more likely to choose a radius of 50 or even 100 miles.

In addition, there were more “other” responses in 2014 than in 2012, in part because a new option was given in the latest poll: 13% agreed that items produced within the same state could be seen as “local.” Obviously, the mileage implications would be quite different in Alaska or Texas than in Rhode Island or Delaware, but for these consumers, state pride trumps a literal geographic definition of “local.”

"Locally Produced" Means...

The majority of consumers report that they seek out locally sourced products in restaurants, at least occasionally. While only 17% always or usually look for restaurants that offer local sourcing, 40% do so sometimes, for a total of 57%; the other 42% say the issue holds little or no interest for them.

Consumers’ willingness to go out of their way to find locally sourced foods in restaurants varies quite a bit by generation: 29% of those under age 35 say they always or usually seek out a restaurant that touts foods and ingredients from the area, compared to 23% of consumers between the ages of 35 and 44 and a mere 9% of those 45 and older. There are also notable gender differences: 21% of women say they usually or always gravitate to restaurants that offer locally sourced items, compared to just 14% of men.

Diners see regional sourcing as much more important for some items than for others. Consumers who have visited restaurants that promote local sourcing were asked to rate its importance for various menu categories. These foodservice patrons express the strongest interest in locally sourced produce: 84% say it’s important to them that salad greens served in restaurants be grown in the area, and 83% feel the same about other vegetables and fruits.

Proteins are another category where consumers watch for local products. Eight out of 10 say it’s important to them that eggs, dairy products and meats be locally sourced. Almost seven out of 10 say the same about fish and seafood (though this issue may be of more importance to those who live near the ocean than to those who don’t).

While regional sourcing matters for nature’s products from American fields, farms and waters, it also matters for processed foods. Almost eight out of 10 consumers say they prefer that restaurants offer local breads and baked goods rather than those shipped from far away. Half say they care about supporting area processors, favoring restaurants that use potato chips, pickles, jams and so on from nearby plants or commissaries. Local sourcing even matters beyond food: half of consumers prefer that restaurants contract with local suppliers for nonfood products, from kitchen supplies and disposables to décor elements and floral arrangements.

In recent years, there’s been an explosion of regional American wines as well as an upswelling of limited-distribution craft breweries and distilleries. While regional wines, beers and spirits may be a hot trend in the industry, they’re of limited interest to the average consumer. Only 28% of respondents say local wines and beers are important to them, and just 23% say the same about locally produced spirits. Not all consumers drink adult beverages, and among those who do, fondness for locally produced alcohol may vary quite a bit depending on whether their region is known for its wineries, breweries or distilleries.

How Important Is It To You That Products Be Locally Sourced?

To effectively market regional foods to the many consumers who care about them, restaurants must understand their customers’ motivations in choosing
local products. When respondents were asked why they prefer locally obtained menu items in restaurants, the number one motivator given was superior
freshness (important to 68% of those who buy regionally sourced items in restaurants). However, the related issues of healthfulness and flavor were top
motivators for only about a quarter. Rather than highlighting only characteristics intrinsic to the food, almost two-thirds of respondents said they look
for regional items in restaurants as a way to support the area’s farmers and food businesses.

Activists who promote local sourcing often talk about sustainability, arguing that foods sourced nearby and in season mean less energy required for
production—so this way of eating can be sustained even if industrialized, long-distance agricultural systems are strained. This idea may be a little too
abstract for most diners, though; even among those who purchase locally sourced foods in restaurants, only 18% say sustainability or a lowered carbon
footprint is one of their primary reasons for doing so.


Bottom line: Interest in local sourcing of many menu items is widespread and growing, buoyed by ideals of freshness and a drive to boost the regional
economy. Operations that can offer regional foods and beverages at a profitable price point—and market them based on an understanding of customers’
motivations—have prime opportunities for menu differentiation that can build traffic and sales.


Source:  Technomic, Inc. Except where otherwise noted, source of data is a periodic overnight survey of 500 consumers representative of the U.S. population,
conducted via the Internet by Technomic Inc. in November 2014. Margin of error ± 4.4%. If you have questions, comments or topic suggestions, please
contact Jackie Dulen Rodriguez at or directly at (312) 506-3934.