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NIFA-funded study explores issues affecting farmer-restaurant relationships

Nearly half of buyers for New Hampshire restaurants would prefer to purchase their food directly from farmers and are more likely to do so if they believe purchasing locally grown food will benefit their community, according to new research funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA NIFA).

The study, conducted by the Agriculture Experimentation Station within the University of New Hampshire College of Life Sciences and Agriculture (NHAES), provides new information on restaurant purchasing trends in the Granite State, informing policy initiatives and assisting to expand local food economies and adding to knowledge gained from a successful farm-to-table program in Utah.

The research was conducted by NHAES scientist John Halstead, professor of environmental economics, and former graduate student Amanda McLeod, now an analyst with The Cadmus Group in Waltham, Massachusetts. It appears in the most recent issue of the Journal of Agribusiness.

According to the researchers, the study helps better understand which factors help decide whether restaurants will source their products from local farms. This information can help New England farmers and restaurants be more efficient and strengthen local food systems, and potentially help identify barriers to further growth than may require policy actions.

New Hampshire’s restaurant industry employs nearly 70,000 people, with estimated annual sales of $3 billion, according to the National Restaurant Association. In 2017, there were more than 4,100 farms in the Granite State, with an annual market value of $187.8 million, according to the U.S. Census of Agriculture.

The researchers found that 44% of restaurants want to purchase food directly farmers if no other constraints exist, such as seasonal availability and delivery issues. The research also found that 37% of restaurants already procure food directly from producers, suggesting that is already conducive to local food sourcing. Farmers’ cooperatives or regional distributors were preferred second (14%), with 13% of restaurants already purchasing from cooperatives and 37% from regional distributors.

“Overall, buyers are more likely to purchase local if they feel they are socially or economically benefiting their community,” the researchers found.

Locally sourcing food appealed to restaurants because of food quality and the ability to support local businesses and local farmers. However, they cited price and seasonal availability of produce as challenges in consistently sourcing local food. Numerous buyers said they would like to see a better networking environment to connect them with farmers. Additionally, restaurants serving less than 750 meals a week were less likely to purchase locally produced food.

In terms of specific categories, restaurant buyers were most interested in purchasing locally produced vegetables, fresh-cut produce, local cheese, and local beef, and were least interested in grains, wine, and yogurt. All buyers cited taste as important or very important, also noting quality, cost, and product marketability as important. Nearly all respondents said consistent supply and quality was important or very important.

“One product that a number of restaurants would like to purchase locally more often was meat, particularly red meat, which can be sourced year-round. The main obstacle to sourcing local beef, however, was cost,” the researchers found.

The researchers cite the Utah Farm-Chef-Fork Program, which connects producers and restaurants through workshops, farm and restaurant tours, and other local-sourcing events, as a potential model for New Hampshire.

“Introducing a program like Utah’s in New Hampshire may result in a better-connected food network. Research has found that holding workshops is effective in providing information to strengthen farmer-restaurant relationships. Restaurants found it difficult to deal with multiple purchase and delivery sources—they can’t ‘keep their refrigerator open seven days a week for multiple deliveries,’” the researchers said.

This material is based upon work supported by the NH Agricultural Experiment Station, through joint funding of USDA NIFA, under award number 1015411, and the state of New Hampshire.

Read more: https://colsa.unh.edu/nhaes/article/2020/11/restaurants

Read the study: https://ageconsearch.umn.edu/record/307143?ln=en

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