Talking Shop with… Barry Goldsher, Growers Supply

The president and chief executive officer of Growers Supply says that hydroponics is the best way to achieve greater production as demand for locally grown produce increases.

Grocery Headquarters: Everyone is talking about locally grown produce. How does this benefit the retailer and the consumer?

Barry Goldsher: Retailers and consumers benefit from locally grown produce because it helps develop the local economy. When farmers increase their fruit and vegetable production, they generally buy their supplies—including fertilizer, fuel and equipment—locally. A strong local economy benefits everyone, including grocery retailers and residents.

By stocking locally grown produce, retailers also benefit from less inventory to carry, reduced spoilage and better profit margins. Farmers will deliver their produce almost daily to stores, meaning that the retailer does not have to worry about inventory spoiling. Receiving produce directly from the farm also reduces the amount of packaging that will have to be disposed of and transportation and packaging costs will also be lower.

Through the rising popularity of farmers’ markets, it is obvious that consumers want to know the faces behind their food and that they are willing to pay a premium for that knowledge. Bringing in local produce to stores will allow grocers to improve their profit margins because they can command top prices for these items.

Consumers benefit because local produce is fresher, tastier and more nutritious than transported food. Produce loses nutrients during shipping, sugars turn to starches and plant cells shrink and lose vitality. When customers choose tomatoes imported from another country, they have no way of knowing how long ago that fruit was actually harvested. When the tomato is from a local farm, the customer knows exactly where it came from.

Is the “local” movement catching on with consumers?

You can see the popularity of locally grown produce with your own eyes. Just look at the ever-increasing number of farmers’ markets and roadside stands in most communities. With the state of our economy over the last few years, consumers are realizing that reducing our dependency on imported products, including foreign oil, is important.  Much of our food travels 1,500 miles on average before it reaches the retailer. That results in high transportation costs and a lot of wear and tear on our roads and bridges. Not only are consumers opening their eyes to the quality of locally grown produce, they are realizing the wider economical impacts of this movement.

How do hydroponics and an engineered greenhouse help in this market?

Hydroponics, also known as soilless production, and engineered greenhouses can bring fruit and vegetable production even closer to the retail outlets. Greenhouse hydroponic producers can grow year round, because the growing environment is controlled. This allows growers to produce a large variety of fresh, vibrant and tasty produce to supply to stores.

What do retailers need to do in terms of marketing, merchandising and promoting to maximize sales?

To maximize sales, retailers need to work with the local growers to build local brands; they need to leverage how fresh and attractive the food looks. Having the growers come to the stores to meet and greet the customers is another tactic because it will put a human face behind the product. Retailers can also run specials and promotions. Stew Leonard’s, a grocery chain in Connecticut and New York, does this very well.

What does the future look like for these products?

For the future of locally grown produce, the economics of scale in farming will not continue to be the business model.  Instead, growing will become smaller in scale, with more family-owned-and-operated farms supported by local communities.

I can see retailers bringing hydroponic production on site. For example, many retailers already have seasonal garden centers that bring in extra customers. Taking the next step and creating a year-round, onsite, hydroponic grocery headquarters would allow customers to see where their food comes from. At Disney World, there is a hydroponics growing area that is one of the most active areas in the park. People are amazed at seeing how things are actually grown. 

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