Buy Fresh Buy Local: Building Marketing Opportunities for Local Foods in Restaurants and Institutional Food Services

2007 Annual Report for LNC06-269

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2006: $108,750.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Rachel Armstrong
REAP Food Group

Buy Fresh Buy Local: Building Marketing Opportunities for Local Foods in Restaurants and Institutional Food Services


This project is intended to strengthen the agricultural economy of the seven county “Capital Region” of Wisconsin through development of the institutional market for fresh, fresh-processed, and locally produced products. A “Buy Fresh Buy Local” outreach campaign will allow the value-added of “fresh” and “local” foodstuffs to be captured by both farmers and institutional food services. This outreach and education effort will result in enhanced patronization of those businesses that are part of the Buy Fresh Buy Local (BFBL) program, which in turn will result in enhanced demand for local products. Visible “branding” is the vehicle through which both producers and businesses are able to capture the value-added dimension of consumers’ preferences for fresh, local, and sustainably produced foods. In order to facilitate the extension and enlargement of this market, we will work to facilitate the emergence of brokering mechanisms capable of efficiently connecting local producers to the institutional market.

The primary objectives of year one have been to articulate food service operators’ and farmers’ needs in expanding local food sales to food service operations, create a plan to address those needs, and develop a brand identity among consumers for Southern Wisconsin food.

After one year of implementation, the BFBL program has honed its objectives:

-Built a set of program offerings for potential restaurant and institutional food service partners,

-defined partnership responsibilities and solicited participation from food service establishments,

-become a Buy Fresh Buy Local Chapter of the the FoodRoutes Network,

-developed a unique visual brand for Buy Fresh Buy Local Southern Wisconsin.

In year one, we signed on 20 committed Partner establishments, primarily in the Madison/Dane County region. We monitored the amount of local food purchased by our Partners, connected chefs to new local sources, connected farmers to new food service accounts, and developed a strategy to market Partner establishments and the local food ethic to consumers. We established relationships with several media outlets, and achieved solid media coverage of our program and events with 17 stories relating to BFBL. An appropriate opportunity to develop a local distribution system for the 7 county Capital region continues to be explored while expanding our communications network and continuing to assess community needs.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Objectives: Research and Relationship Building
  • Project staff will attain comprehensive understanding of the constraints and opportunities for increasing purchases of local farm products by restaurants and institutional food services.

    Farmers and food service operators in the region will become aware of opportunities to buy and sell product locally.

Objectives: Education and Outreach
  • Restaurants, institutions, farmers and farm groups will find the outreach materials appealing and persuasive and will see the value of becoming part of a campaign, leading to increased local purchasing.

    Capital Region consumers will gain awareness about the campaign and about the benefits of supporting BFBL Partner establishments, leading to increased demand for local foods.

Objectives: Brokering Mechanism Facilitation
  • Research potential distribution mechanisms suitable for the region, using the information gained to encourage and enable a distribution mechanism effectively serving the Madison food service market.


Accomplishments: Research and Relationship Building

The BFBL coordinator met with 23 restaurant chefs and managers, five retail food buyers, 30 farmers and 13 non-profit organizations or government entities to discuss local food system issues, farmer chef relationships and the formation of the Buy Fresh Buy Local program.

After conversations with potential partners we defined Partnership categories for Restaurant, Retail, Farmer and Farmers Market participants. Partnership agreements articulate responsibilities that include a commitment to:
1) increase usage of local product,
2) consistently use the BFBL logo, and
3) provide open and regular communication with the BFBL coordinator regarding the quantities and varieties of local food purchases and any obstacles they are facing.

Benefits of partnership include assistance in connecting with farmers or chefs through consulting and other resources, access to tailored marketing materials, media outreach efforts to spread their BFBL success stories, and opportunities to participate in BFBL sponsored events.

Goals and strategies for a pilot period of the BFBL program from June to October of 2007 were outlined and undertaken. As part of the pilot the coordinator met with food service operators to discuss local purchasing opportunities suitable for each operation. Nineteen of these meetings resulted in signed Partnership agreements and an ongoing relationship as new local purchases were made and local products incorporated into the kitchen.

In September, 2007, BFBL launched the post-pilot phase of the program with an event called Local Night Out. Local Night Out is an annual event where BFBL Partner restaurants feature special locally-sourced menu items in addition to their regular offerings. Diners are encouraged to go out to participating restaurants on Local Night Out to show their support for local foods and the restaurants choosing to use them. Eighteen restaurants participated with a variety of price ranges, ethnicities and locations represented. The event’s objectives were to both encourage new farmer/chef relationships and to acquaint consumers with restaurants that buy locally. Both objectives were successfully achieved. Out of 9 returned event surveys half said they established new farmer relationships that would result in further sales. Sixty-seven percent of those respondents also said they had significantly increased business on Local Night Out and most diners came to the establishment for the special local food menu. We estimate 500 diners participated in Local Night Out.

In order to further “match-make” buying opportunities between chefs and farmers, BFBL hosted “Farmer Chef Speed Dating” on October 29th, 2008 for over 25 farmers and chefs. Of the 16 farmers returning their evaluation survey, 15 reported they made connections at Farmer Chef Speed Dating that would, or were likely to, result in new purchasing relationships. The event brought together cheese, egg, meat, vegetable and dairy producers along with chefs and managers of coffee shops, catering providers, casual restaurants and high-end restaurants.

BFBL pilot Partner restaurants reported an increase in the dollar amount of local purchases from January 2007 to October 2007 as compared to the 2006 growing. The dollar amount spent on local foods by these Partners in 2007 was $493,253. While it has been difficult to determine a precise increase in purchases, 4 establishments indicated a large increase and 4 a moderate increase. Only one restaurant reported their purchasing amount for the 2007 growing season as a minor increase.

Accomplishments: Education and Outreach

We worked with Food Routes Network and Design for Social Impact to design the Buy Fresh Buy Local Southern Wisconsin label and logo. This graphic is being used as our “brand image” and features fruits, vegetables and animal products associated with our region.

The BFBL logo was displayed on Partner entrances, in posters, menus, or printed advertisements by every BFBL Partner by the end of the pilot period.

BFBL messages and Partners achieved considerable media attention through 25 media hits in newspapers, magazines, local news programs and on community and public radio stations. Seventeen of those have been feature pieces on the BFBL program or BFBL events with the remaining as supporting material in articles about broader local food issues or events. In addition we have printed and distributed 50 BFBL informational packets to restaurants, 1500 postcards advertising our BFBL launch event, Local Night Out, and distributed over 200 customer brochures at events and Partner restaurants. The BFBL logo has been printed on tote bags and bumper stickers which are sold by our Partner establishments to further spread awareness of the campaign to the public.

All but one BFBL Pilot Partner restaurants report having received recognition from consumers for participation in BFBL. All BFBL Pilot Partner restaurants indicated receiving media recognition for their participation. Additionally, most Partners said their customers were motivated to patronize restaurants that bought locally grown products.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

In year one, we have developed the framework of the Buy Fresh Buy Local Partner program, with established Partner benefits and expectations. Our website, brochures, graphics package, and ongoing media relationships convey the value of local products and guide diners to these food service operators committed to serving local products.

Future Outlook
  • Deepen local foods buying relationships with our current Partners as well as sign on new Partners in the restaurant, retail, institution, and farmer/farmers’ market sectors.

    Expand the geographical range of our visible Partners to the broader 9-county region.

    Develop new media outreach mechanisms to tell the inspiring stories of farmers connecting with restaurants and institutional food services.

    Develop and enhance communications tools to provide farmers and buyers easier means of working together.

    Develop and promote regular BFBL events for the community

    Expand the use of the BFBL visual brand so that the public is aware of the many opportunities they have to buy locally.

    Continue to explore and foster opportunities for efficient distribution mechanisms between farmers and their wholesale accounts.