The Local Advantage

Whoever thinks being an urban dwelling resident of New York City in 2012 means you don’t have access to food straight from the farm, hasn’t visited the Big Apple in a while. Today, NYC is literally overflowing with fresh fruit, vegetables, jams, breads, and even wines, juices and milk products, thanks to the expansion of the green market system throughout the city. GrowNYC, the organization that runs the green markets, says there are currently 54 in the city, with four new ones opening so far in 2012 in the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens.

I’m a huge fan of the green markets, usually stopping by a couple of times each week to pick up a freshly made juice, pretzels made in nearby Philadelphia, and a variety of fruits and vegetables. And as a resident of the city, I can attest that there is a really big difference in the taste of a piece of freshly picked fruit from an upstate New York farm compared with one that’s been traversing a supply chain across the country—or even farther—for months.

But while many products rely on such global supply chains, the beverage business is different. Sure, beverage is increasingly a global business. Just look at the beer industry and you see how consolidated that’s become. But at the same time, it’s increasingly becoming a locally oriented business as well. In that same category, beer, the biggest growth has been among craft brewers. I dare you to find a craft brewer out there who doesn’t pride him or herself on being able to provide fresher beer to the local marketplace than the bigger brewers. It’s become a huge competitive advantage for them, appealing to an emerging generation of consumers who prefer local products. And these consumers do so not only for the improved taste and quality. They also are attracted to the greenness associated with shorter supply chains and oftentimes a reduction in the amount of packing material that has to be used.

In fact, the food and beverage industries are really lucky—they are able to take advantage of this local trend like few other industries can. Craft breweries are opening in cities all around the country at an amazing rate.

And this trend extends well beyond craft brewers. In July, Starbucks broke ground on a $172 million plant in Augusta, Ga. that will produce products currently manufactured abroad, including Starbucks VIA Ready Brew, the coffee base for Frappuccino blended beverages and many of Starbucks ready-to-drink beverages. The soluble plant will be Starbucks fifth manufacturing facility in the U.S., adding to the company’s existing network of four roasting plants in Kent, Wash., York, Pa., Sandy Run, S.C., and Carson Valley, Nev. The 180,000-square- foot plant will be capable of producing up to 4,000 metric tons per year. Peter Gibbons, head of Starbucks’ global supply operations told The Wall St. Journal:  “This will increase speed-to-market while reducing inventory costs and helping us ensure a more predictable supply.” As a company-owned plant, it will also allow for more innovation, Gibbons said.

So it seems that in the future, to borrow a phrase from the late Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, it seems it won’t only be all politics that is local.

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