Chattanooga: Local food travels less

Chattanooga: Local food travels less

March 11th, 2009 by Amy Williams in Business

From chocolate candy and hot sauce to tamales and coffee, locally made items fill the shelves of many Chattanooga-area grocery stores.

When the consumer buys these products, the local economy benefits, said Vanessa Mercer, executive director of organic Crabtree Farms in Chattanooga.

"It keeps those dollars local, and it keeps those dollars continually moving around in Chattanooga," Ms. Mercer said.

From locally owned markets such as Greenlife Grocery and chain stores such as Bi-Lo, grocers throughout the area sell products made nearby. For the stores, the benefit can be seen in reduced costs associated with transportation and shipping.

Staff Photo by Margaret Fenton Greenlife employee Josh Morton, right, unpacks a crate of avocados while assistant produce manager Ashley Creed searches for fruit past its prime Monday morning. The grocery store carries as much local produce as possible, with crops coming in as early as the first week in April. Regional dairy, meat, eggs and honey are available year-round.

Staff Photo by Margaret Fenton Greenlife employee Josh Morton,...

Customers benefit by getting fresh products and knowing their money is staying in the community, which Ms. Mercer said can improve overall quality of life.

If consumers bought 5 percent more local food, as much as $100 million would be added to the regional economy, according to a study released late last year by Crabtree Farms and the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies.

Tammy Grafe, manager of Greenlife, said the store uses local products in the foods it makes, including a small Georgia company called Gregg's Eggs and Chattanooga bakery Neidlov's BreadWorks.

"We need to support the local family-owned farms and family-owned businesses that are really trying to do it right for the community," Ms. Grafe said.

For big grocery chains such as Bi-Lo, locally made products can save consumers money through lower shipping costs, said Mike Mannion, director of Bi-Lo brands. Also, shorter commutes for products are better for the environment and result in consumers getting fresher items.

"We try our best to find quality producers for our brand in this market area," Mr. Mannion said.

More than a dozen items produced under Bi-Lo's Southern Home brand are made in the South. Bi-Lo sells Mayfield Dairy products from nearby Athens, Tenn. A Rome, Ga. company supplies the grocers' flours and cornmeals, and Southern Home tortilla chips are made in Bristol, Tenn.

For the first time, the company has begun to promote local products through its weekly ad circular.

"I do believe buying locally is important to our shoppers, especially in the economic landscape in which we are today," Mr. Mannion said.

The report by Crabtree and the Ochs Center is part of the Chattanooga Buy Fresh Buy Local campaign, which connects farmers and artisans with merchants and restaurants through a partner network.

That network could eventually help the groups quantify how much money the local growers and artisans are generating for the regional economy. The group will release a food guide in mid-April, which will show residents and visitors to the city where they can purchase local food.