Locally produced meat, seafood and produce are this year’s hottest trends for restaurant menu items, according to more than 1500 chefs who responded to a survey conducted by The National Restaurant Association in October 2010. The chefs (members of the American Culinary Federation) were asked to rate 226 food and beverage items, cuisines, culinary themes and preparation methods, as “hot trend,” “yesterday’s news” or “perennial favorite” for restaurant menus in 2011. Cumulatively, nine of the “Top 20 Trends for Restaurant Menus in 2011” are categorized as local, organic, and/or sustainable.
Kentucky ranks among the “Top 10” states for growth of direct-to-consumer food marketing, having experienced a 195 percent increase in market size from 1997-2007 (USDA Census of Agriculture). With such a significant increase in consumer demand for local foods, Kentucky’s food producers should expect opportunities to continue expanding. As the popularity of locally produced foods continues to increase, product demand is reaching beyond the farmers’ market and making its way to retail shelves and food service menus. Kentucky producers have the unique opportunity for entry into the food service market. Administered by the KY Department of Agriculture, the Restaurant Rewards Program offers restaurants and food service institutions a rebate of up to 20% of the purchase cost for local products that have a direct Kentucky farm gate value (the reimbursement maximum is $12,000 within a 12 month time frame and the producer must be a Kentucky Proud member).
The barriers of market entry for non-direct supply chains can be quite different than what farmers are experiencing with farmers’ markets or roadside stands, and a new program has been developed to assist producers with these obstacles. MarketReady, offered through the Cooperative Extension Service, is a training program intended to guide producers and new food entrepreneurs to develop supplier relationships with restaurants, grocery, wholesale and food service buyers. The training is based around best business practices identified by buyers in these markets that are actively seeking to engage local suppliers. Some of the business functions covered are communication, packaging, pricing, invoicing, insurance, certifications, delivery, storage, and marketing.
Opportunity exists for local products in local markets here in Kentucky, yet many producers are hesitant or unprepared to meet the transactional requirements necessary to compete in this new venue. MarketReady addresses these issues and hopes to educate and prepare our food suppliers to succeed in today’s markets. Today, more than 100 Kentucky farmers have completed the curriculum.