Locally sourced food is one of the fastest growing trends in restaurants today. More and more, customers want to know that their food is coming from places they can trust, especially if it’s the farmer’s market down the street. Locally sourced ingredients have become synonymous with quality to many consumers, particularly in urban areas.
What Is Locally Sourced Food?
Locally sourced food, by definition, refers to food served within a 100 mile radius of where it was grown. However, because there’s no legal distinction to cover what constitutes local foods, some corporations are able to sell “locally sourced” products through clever wording.
Pros and Cons of Locally Sourced Food
Sourcing all of your food locally is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you’ll make customers happy. On the other, your menu can’t stay the same year-round. If you’re only sourcing food from local areas, you’ll eventually run out of certain ingredients if there’s a bad harvest, or at least when the seasons change. To keep up, you have to have a grasp on what “local” is and how to adapt to changing supply.
Organic vs. Local Food
As you go about selecting locally sourced food for your business, be sure to consider the differences between local and organic food. Not all local foods are created equal, and they also aren’t organic unless they have a USDA “Certified Organic” label.
Foods that do have the USDA “Certified Organic” label are grown and processed according to strict federal guidelines. Produce is considered organic if it’s been grown in soil that hasn’t been subject to synthetic fertilizers and pesticides for at least three years prior to harvest.
Finding local food that is also organic is obviously the best of both worlds, but if you can’t, at least try to find products that are one or the other.
Incorporating Locally Sourced Food Into Your Restaurant
Locally sourcing ingredients means you need to change your menu according to what’s available. The first step is learning which fruits and vegetables are in season in your area. You could also make the choice to transition into a hyper-local restaurant, where you grow all of your produce on-site.
Hyper-local restaurants sprung both from customer demand and the desire for vertical integration, which happens when an establishment controls the raw material, production, and sale of a product from inception to consumption.
It’s your responsibility as a business owner to determine the origins, treatment, and freshness of your menu items, and the hyper-local model eliminates any guesswork. Your guests will also appreciate that your staff will be able to answer questions regarding your ingredients and menu.
Creating a Menu with Locally Sourced Food
In addition to creating a unique menu, incorporating locally sourced food into your business will also help you design a healthier menu. If you purchase local vegetables, use them to create delicious and healthy salads, side dishes, quiches, and omelets. On the other hand, local fruit is perfect for making smoothies, sorbets, purees, and healthy desserts.
Purchasing locally sourced meats also provides you with the opportunity to select antibiotic-free, lean products like turkey and chicken for your menu. If you live near a bay or ocean, you can also load up your menu with fresh seafood dishes that are both healthy and responsibly sourced.
As you design your menu, keep in mind that you’ll need to add or remove items depending upon what’s in season in your region, especially if you live in a dry or cold area that isn’t particularly agriculture-friendly.
When it comes to integrating locally sourced food into your restaurant, there is no right or wrong answer. Ultimately, it comes down to what is best for the unique needs of your business.
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