by Tom Bryce-HartLocal Line

Trends come and go, and businesses rise and fall with them. 40 years ago the trend was set by Earl Butz. It was his dream to see fencerow after fencerow planted in corn and grain. He coined a phrase and named a trend : Get big or Get out. 40 years ago, the farmers and producers that followed suit are the ones today we think of as giants in the food industry. But still, these giants rose on the back of a trend: a trend that today is in reverse, and long overdue for a makeover.

The trend reversal is already happening: managing production and inventory with a farm management IT program is becoming the norm; watering schedules and areas can be automated; even the smallest sustenance farms are adopting e-commerce to improve their sales process. But make no mistake, even as much as the new IT trend in farming can be a tool to level the playing field, the biggest players aren’t going to miss any opportunity to stay on top. How they choose to adapt to the new IT and localized food trends will determine the face of the food industry going forward. They will either resist and die, or adapt and survive. Either way, you have an opportunity right now to get ahead of the curve of the technical trend and position yourself to reap the benefits of being a technically savvy food producer with a great product and story to sell, in a market craving convenience and exclusivity in the same package.

Because food production has always been an industry of tradition, it takes longer for change to occur. Sweeping change of farming practices take at least a generation to fully take hold. Thanks in part to Butz, methods of mass-scale, industrialized, chemical food are the traditions that are being passed to future generations of farmers. This means that although the biggest players in todays food system will eventually implement a digitalization strategy, unless they change what they grow, they will not have success because demand for their products and techniques are fading. In reality, the small to medium sized food producer who has autonomy over product and farming method decisions can benefit from the advances in farming IT, as well as the growing market trend towards food with a story.

Big food companies realize this, so more so than the technical revolution, the trend that the biggest food companies in the world are starting to come around to is this: people want the story behind their food.

The time of respecting efficiency over quality is being replaced with a time of respecting the story: where did this come from? Show me the face of the person who grew this. And no matter where you fit into the food production value chain, now is the time to catch this trend and ride it for the coming decades.

As we discussed in an earlier article, the biggest companies in the world (both food and non-food) are adapting to serve both localization trends and the changing tastes of their customers by increasing their own local sourcing. For a small to medium sized food producer, attracting the business of these large companies is about more than your technical edge. Big buyers aren’t buying local products because they’re easy to buy, they’re buying stories to sell. With Local Line, you can share your story and your products with all your buyers, while streamlining your sales and business management processes to take full advantage of the increased need for local products to serve larger markets. In other words, your value is in your story.

How do big businesses make it work?

Let’s say you’re a large size distributor that wants to expand your local offerings, but you can’t purchase and warehouse the items at a volume that makes it worth the cost. You can very easily expand your local repertoire by registering with Local Line as a food hub. You can provide your customers access to any local producers you choose to deal with. You can be the access point for the interesting stories and unique products your customers are looking for, without having associated inventory costs. In the ideal world, the local producers you work with only bring you what sells and is dropped off prior to delivery time, creating 100% throughput and minimal inventory requirements. That’s a powerful competitive advantage.

There is no doubt that the chemical/industrial age of food is coming to an end. Nor is the question, “what will replace it?” for the answer is all around us. Customers are aware of the methods used to produce and transport the majority of food over the last 40 years, and they are rejecting those methods in favour of locally sourced, storied food. The only question that remains is will you get ahead of the trend, or fall behind?

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