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Community Food Enterprise: Local Success in a Global Marketplace

Tori Okner | Saturday December 12th, 2009 | 0 Comments

16585The Wallace Center, a program at Winrock International, has just released a compelling report on the business of local food.

Funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Community Food Enterprise: Local Success in A Global Marketplace is a global survey on the economic, social, and environmental impact of local food.

Using the B Corporation Ratings System, the report analyzes a diverse selection of 24 food businesses. The assessment offers a rare piece of good news. In contrast to the common assumption that local food is a small, struggling, and poorly run movement by and for the rich, it concludes that the industry is maturing into a “centerpiece” of development.
The research initiative began with a mailing sent to over 10,000 people requesting nominations for exemplary local food businesses. The authors’ chose a diverse group. Half of the companies are located within the United States, half abroad. No two American businesses are within the same state, no two foreign companies from the same country. Together, the selected “community food enterprises” (CFE) represent the corporate and non-profit sectors, public-private partnerships, and cooperatives. They operate in various niches of the food system: in production, distribution, training. value-added, and the restaurant industry Their contributions to local economies, social enterprise, and food security is magnificent.
Community Food Enterprise: Local Success in A Global Marketplace
challenges the colloquial understanding of local food. Economist and lead author Michael Shuman argues that it is a mistake to define the local food movement by the distance that food moves rather than a principal attribute of the businesses itself—local ownership. Shuman, Director of Research and Public Policy at the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies and author of The Small Mart Revolution, suggests that food is one of “the most important entry points for local economy building.”

The report aims to answer the following questions: “What strategies are community food enterprises deploying to heighten their competitiveness? What are the major challenges facing these enterprises and the ways they are overcoming those challenges? How well are these enterprises meeting the triple bottom line of profit, people, and planet? To what extent are successful CFE models capable of being replicated worldwide?”

Their research is grounded in seven key social performance indicators:

• Greater income
• Training ecology
• Local economy
• Charitable contributions
• Women’s empowerment
• Global CFE solidarity

Each indicator is presented alongside a model CFE. Whether championing the entrepreneurial spirit or outlining a founder’s commitment to corporate social responsibility, the report is a heartening read.
Shuman emphasized the innovations that CFEs implement to turn comparative disadvantages into organizational strengths. He cites the example of the Weaver Street Market, a cooperative with a limited consumer base—the quality of both its products and services results in exceptional consumer loyalty.
Over the course of their research, the authors recognized 15 outstanding strategies embraced by successful CFEs:

“Hard work, innovation, local delivery, aggregation, vertical integration, share holder loyalty, speed, better access, better taste, better story, better stewardship, better service, revitalizing local economies, more community spirit, more social change.”

One of the companies profiled, Zingerman’s Community of Business, brings in over $34 million in annual revenue and employs over 500 people. A group of seven distinct businesses ranging from a delicatessen to a candy shop, Zingerman’s contributed to the report’s launch by reflecting on its role in the Ann Arbor community. It engages in ongoing self-examination, reviewing which local resources it relies on and how it may help the community develop what it needs. At present, this includes but is not limited to an educational program in partnership with the elementary school, the hiring and training of high school students, and a commitment to foster professional development and support regional business initiatives.

Community Food Enterprise: Local Success in A Global Marketplace focuses on mobilization and networking as the key to continual growth among CFE’s. Peer-mentoring is trumpeted as an exceptional strength of the local food movement and promoted as an action all business leaders ought to prioritize. The report specifically suggests the creation of an open source forum, “a web-based Locopedia” for CFEs.
If you identify as a locavore or consider the local food movement elitist, read the report and let us know what you think. What CFEs do you patronize? What strengths and weaknesses do you see in their business models?


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