Food Lion Excels At Promoting State-Grown Produce
Sourcing fresh fruits and vegetables from local farmers was easy back in 1957 when Food Lion — then a single store called Food Town — was founded in Salisbury, NC. Fast forward over half a century, and the 1,100-plus store chain with locations in 10 Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern Unites States still prioritizes sourcing and selling local produce for its customers.
In fact, the retailer, now owned by Ahold Delhaize USA, re-dedicated itself to buying from close-to-home producers with the launch of its Local Goodness marketing and merchandising campaign in 2016. A year later, the campaign expanded from North Carolina to include Georgia, South Carolina and Virginia. Today, shoppers at any Food Lion store can find produce grown in their state when in season. That’s because the retailer made the strategic decision to define ‘local’ as produce grown in the state in which the store is located.
“I’m fairly certain that we (Food Lion) are the only retailer in the U.S. that suspends warehouse purchases and deliveries when local is available. In other words, 99 percent of state-grown produce is direct-store-delivered in season, meaning we are self-supplying,” says Lonnie Kelley, local produce sourcing specialist based in Salisbury, NC, who was hired in 2016 to grow and expand Local Goodness. “Most others will split it up or go through a warehouse. But no one has the luxury of five slots in their warehouse to keep tomatoes, for example, from South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and West Virginia all separate to go to those state’s respective stores.”
Key to the success of the campaign from the start, says Kelley, was strong top-down support from senior management, which was essential since such state-specific local sourcing was extremely complex to navigate.
Food Lion’s hard definition of local is defined as state-grown, and that has forged strong relationships between the retailer and departments of agriculture in each of the state’s the chain has stores. This is true whether there are 200 locations in the state or only three. To capitalize on this, last year Food Lion tested a co-branded bin program with South Carolina, North Carolina and Tennessee. Each agricultural department provided its state promotional logo, and the retailer crafted the bins to display products that conformed to the retailer’s specific design aesthetics, a wood grain finish with black branding.
“Results were extraordinary. Food Lion loved it. The stores loved it. The states loved it,” says Kelley. “This year, we will expand to bins with logos from nine states. It was important we built credibility, that the departments knew and trusted that what we put in those bins would be from their state.”
Another important requirement to Local Goodness is that local produce and products are labeled not just by state, but also with the farmer’s name and address. This makes it easier for customers to know where their food comes from and for Kelley and his team to dive more deeply into expanding the campaign in a hyper-local direction.
“For example, in North Carolina, when broccoli crowns are finished in the sandy warm soil of the state’s east coast, they may still be available for another one to two weeks from farms to the west in the mountains, so we make sure those stores are still getting this product,” he explains.
“A big part of my role is going out on farm tours in each of the 10 states, many times with our distributor along too, and finding what’s available and new items that a farm may grow, but we haven’t purchased yet. We buy from farms that have 60 or more unique commodities and those that have only a dozen or fewer. Either way, we don’t bend on the requirement of farms being GAP-certified and let them know the resources in the state to do this. An enhanced assortment, and hyper-local, is something we continue to work on and expand.”
In the future, with more customers buying groceries online either for curbside pick-up or home delivery, Kelley says Food Lion is working to assure shoppers can identify state-grown produce in this format too.