Local sourcing allows restaurants and hotels to engage more with their customers by talking about where the food came from, says Jerry Cerand, who leads fresh food programs for Avendra. Although chefs may pay more for locally grown foods than they would for commercially farmed products, they save on shipping costs and possibly reduce energy consumption due to shorter travel distances. “The freight aspect of the product is a big component of the overall cost,” Cerand says. “It costs almost as much to ship a box of spring mix from the West Coast to the East Coast as it costs to grow the lettuce.”
Local produce also tends to have more longevity in coolers than items that have been packaged and shipped across the country.
Additional savings can be uncovered when buying produce in season, Hosmer says. “When you’re buying cherries locally, for example, at the peak of season and there’s an abundant supply on market, then you’re able to get a lower cost than buying them out of season and having them shipped in from a specific area,” he says. To optimize and leverage economies of scale, Hosmer recommends that restaurants focus on areas that are most impactful for guests.
Once restaurants and hotels track down their local ingredients they need to put their feet on the ground, Cerand says. “Talk to the farmers and see how they go to market, what it costs them, and how Mother Nature controls it all.” Avendra organizes educational tours of farms and fishing villages so chefs can see and understand the way fish is caught or how farmers grow crops and raise animals.
“There’s no better way of understanding what you’re serving and the flavors of the food than going to a market and talking to a farmer who actually grew it,” Hosmer agrees. “It’s amazing to hear their passion and their story and the hard work that goes into it. It creates an appreciation for the ingredients.”