To learn more about the specific different markets surveyed and overall trends seen across all market sectors, click on the tabs below.
Markets Surveyed in our Assessment
While the overall response rate for our market assessment was not as large as expected, the data does provide valuable insights. The fact that public information regarding procurement policies for certain sectors was difficult to obtain indicates that buyers need to be more transparent and better communicate their food safety requirements to producers. Further, a lack of available information may also indicate that there are certain markets that are challenging for Virginia producers to tap into, assuming these markets may instead be sourcing produce through larger suppliers and broad-line distributors.
Of the 46 survey respondents, 72% view buying local produce as important, with quality, availability, and price identified as the top three purchasing priorities. Although the survey was specifically targeted at food safety perceptions and expectations, other constraints (e.g. logistics, variety, price, volume, seasonality) related to purchasing from local farms featured more prominently. Given that most respondents communicate their standards to suppliers verbally, there is likely little consistency across sectors on the message growers are receiving related to quality assurance. Consistent themes across sectors demonstrated the importance of relationship building and communication between producers and buyers. Given the complexities inherent in fresh produce supply chains, these factors were emphasized repeatedly.
Purchasing Priorities (Ranked most to least important)
Requirements for food safety certification was represented in the wholesale, institutional, and K-12 market sectors. In other sectors there was an indication that distributors are relied upon to verify supplier adherence to food safety practices and overcome logistical challenges, while some rely solely on verbal assurances and established relationships to address food safety and quality assurances. The complexity of supply chains was evident, given the varied and inconsistent procurement strategies in place. Across all market sectors, purchasing direct from the grower was prioritized, presumably linked to the value of relationships and support of local food systems. However, the logistical hurdles faced were also substantial, with a perceived need for more intermediaries like food hubs to streamline access to local foods.
While the data indicates that certain market sectors do not have defined food safety requirements and base procurement decisions largely on relationships and verbal agreements, it would be ill-advised for growers to not prioritize food safety plans and verification given the lack of general knowledge and consistency in the marketplace. There appears to be an area of opportunity to address food safety, along with logistical challenges that buyers face, building these values and strategies into a local brand development. In addition, market sectors would benefit from increased access to education related to on-farm food safety practices, and procurement policies, especially given the growth in supply of locally grown produce.
Food Safety Webinar (Part 1)
This CFN food systems webinar was Part 1 of a two-part webinar series exploring the basics of food safety laws impacting fruit and vegetable farmers, food hubs, and distributors. Resources for producers in the Mid-Atlantic region were highlighted. Includes a 15 minute overview of the project (09.00-23.00).
Managing Legal Liability Series
These factsheets can help you learn more about important farm liability issues; however, as with any legal matters, please consult with your insurance agent or attorney for guidance and most up-to-date advice.
A nice booklet covering basic liability principles for direct market and agritourism operations.