Greenbelt Fund Report Identifies Opportunities and Challenges of Integrated Regional Food System


August 18, 2017

Pilot Project connected regional food hub with mainstream distribution channel to access institutional markets

A new report from the Greenbelt Fund details the experience in piloting an integrated regional system in southern Ontario. The project linked producers in the Greater Golden Horseshoe to a large institutional food service buyer through a regional food hub and a broadline distributor.

The aim of the pilot was to address a primary challenge faced by smaller scale local food producers in working with large institutional buyers – the desire for one-stop shopping from a select number of suppliers. By connecting smaller scale producers with large purchasers through a broadline distributor, the pilot sought to eliminate this barrier to access.

“Many of our large institutions like hospitals and universities want to purchase local food, but are limited by what their distributor offers,” said Franco Naccarato, Program Manager at the Greenbelt Fund. “This pilot looked at maintaining their relationship with their distributor, but increasing access to local food through the hub.”

Among the report’s findings is the importance of buy-in and support at all levels of the foodservice operator. The report found that having a local food champion in head office or as chef alone is not sufficient. Enthusiasm for buying more local is more impactful when shared at all levels, to minimize institutional barriers.

“We found there might be an enthusiastic chef but a corporate-level policy getting in the way of choosing local, or committed senior management but warehouse staff less interested in accommodating smaller deliveries from the hub,” said Franco Naccarato.

Other important lessons in the report include challenges aligning the business models and visions of the regional food hub with those of the broadline distributor. In addition, the report finds attention to logistical processes and the ordering experience are essential to ensure repeated purchase of local products.

One of the report’s key findings is the significant economic potential local food hubs represent, despite the challenges. It is estimated that food services purchase $600m annually in produce alone, and an estimated 15% of the produce is local. Achieving an increase to 25% would mean $150m in Ontario produce purchases each year.

“There is tremendous potential for local food,” said Franco Naccarato. “One of the biggest take-aways from this pilot is the economic potential for local food is worth the legwork to overcome the hurdles.”

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About The Greenbelt Fund:
The Greenbelt Fund changes the way we eat food in Ontario. The Fund’s innovative investments get more local food onto the plates of Ontarians. We work with business, institutions and NGOs to make Ontario’s farmers the first choice for consumers. The Fund’s work has generated a 13-fold return on our investments, permanently changed the food value chain and improved local food awareness and education around the province. As a non-for-profit, the Greenbelt Fund is supported by public and private sources. The Local Food Investment Fund is supported by the Government of Ontario.

Erica Woods
Communications Manager
Greenbelt Fund
Phone: (416) 960-0001 ext. 306
[email protected]