Americans Split on Importance of Buying Local at the Grocery Store

Fresh organic rainbow carrots in a bucket on a wooden table

NEW YORK, N.Y. – When it comes to perusing the grocery store, there’s a plethora of different factors that can lead to picking one item over another. One factor that’s been getting its fair share of media attention and in-store callouts is “local.” Americans are largely split on the importance of choosing locally grown/sourced items, with half (50%) saying it’s an important factor in their purchasing decisions and an equal and opposite half (50%) saying it’s not.

This puts buying local behind a number of other factors, as strong majorities of Americans say things like sugar content (69%), fat content (66%), sodium content (64%), and calorie count (64%) are important considerations in choosing one item over another. The perceived importance of buying local is more on par with whether items are antibiotic/hormone free (53%) or contain artificial colors/flavors (50%), and is well ahead of whether items are organic (34%).

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,225 U.S. adults surveyed online between October 14 and 19, 2015.

Buying local: the what and where

When looking at different departments within a grocery store, Americans don’t appear to believe they’re all created equal when it comes to the importance of purchasing local foods. The produce department ranks highest, with two-thirds (67%) of Americans saying it’s important they buy locally grown/sourced food there. Over half also feel it’s important to buy local in the dairy (56%), bakery (55%), and meat (52%) departments. Roughly four in ten feel it’s important to purchase local in the deli (43%) and seafood (39%) departments, while roughly one in four say it’s important to do so in the frozen foods (26%) aisle. “While consumers appear to care more about purchasing locally grown fresh food compared to non-fresh food, this may be a result of the larger assortment of local options available in the fresh departments,” says Sherry Frey, Senior Vice President with The Nielsen Perishables Group.

  • Millennials are more likely than their elders to value a local label in the meat (63% vs. 48% Gen Xers, 47% Baby Boomers & 43% Matures), deli (53% vs. 38%, 38% & 41%), and frozen food (35% vs. 25%, 22% & 10%) departments.
  • Those with kids in the household are more likely to say buying local is important in every department, compared to those without.

 

And just where exactly are Americans shopping for these local options? Traditional grocery retailers (46%) and farmers’ markets (44%) are the top destinations for local product purchases. Just over a quarter visit farm stands (27%), while fewer than one in five say big box retailers (18%) and club stores (16%). Fewer still opt to make use of food cooperatives (8%), Community Supported Agriculture (sometimes called “CSAs” or “Farm Shares” – 5%) or an online source (4%). 

Local perceptions

Whether or not they buy local themselves, Americans have a few thoughts on how locally sourced foods compare to their non-local counterparts. Majorities believe local food purchases support both the local economy as a whole (69%) and individual local businesses (63%), along with being fresher (68%).

Around four in ten say buying local enables them to understand where the food comes from (39%) and say that it tastes better (37%). “Buying local is yet another way consumers seek to better understand where their food comes from, and presents an opportuntity for manufacturers across the store to be even more transparent about all aspects of their products including sourcing, processing, and packaging,” says Frey. Just under a third believe local food is higher quality (32%) and healthier (31%), while around one quarter say it’s better for the environment (25%) and it’s safer (24%). While buying local is known for many things, it’s not always known for being cheap. Just one fifth (20%) say buying local costs less compared to non-local options.

But which of these factors actually make a difference at checkout? Among the eight in ten (81%) Americans who ever shop for locally sourced/grown food, supporting the local economy is the top reason for doing so (39%), followed by the food being fresher (34%) and supporting individual local businesses (32%).

What does “local” mean?

“Local” in and of itself calls to mind a geographic region, but there’s no particular definition and results suggest that this perception can vary based on the product. When asked how far a product could come from and still be considered local, majorities say it must be within their state or closer for each food type: baked goods (77%), dairy (74%), produce (72%), and meat (68%).

  • Baked goods have the smallest radius, with nearly one half (47%) saying these products must come from within their county or city/town to be considered “local.”

And when local isn’t an option…

No matter how strong one’s proclivity might be for purchasing locally sourced or grown options, sometimes it’s just not possible. Among local purchasers, 62% say they’ll purchase a non-local version of a product when they can’t find a local option while shopping.

  • Millennials are more likely than any other generation to put in the extra effort of checking another location (37% vs. 23% Gen Xers, 24% Baby Boomers, & 19% Matures).
  • The same can be said of those with children in the household compared to those without (37% vs. 22%).

Nearly three in ten (28%) aren’t willing to give up so easily, and will instead look for a local version of the product at a different location. One in ten (10%) say they’ll throw in the towel and refrain from purchasing the product altogether.

 

 

TABLE 1

SHOPPING RESPONSIBILITY

“When it comes to shopping for your household groceries, which of the following best describes your level of responsibility?”

Base: All adults

 

Total

%

Does all/most or shares responsibility of grocery shopping

89

I do all or most of the grocery shopping for my household

65

I share the responsibility of grocery shopping equally with someone else.

24

Someone else in my household does most of the grocery shopping.

8

Someone else in my household does all of the grocery shopping.

3

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 

TABLE 2a

IMPORTANCE OF FACTORS WHILE SHOPPING

Grid Summary

“When shopping for food at the grocery store, how important is each of the following to you when making decisions between food products?”

Base: All adults

 

IMPORTANT
(NET)

Very important

Important

NOT IMPORTANT (NET)

Not that important

Not at all important

%

%

%

%

%

%

Sugar content

69

27

42

31

21

10

Fat content

66

21

45

34

24

10

Sodium content

64

23

41

36

24

12

Total calories/Calories per serving

64

20

44

36

26

11

Whether it is antibiotic free/hormone free

53

17

36

47

28

19

Whether it is locally grown or sourced

50

13

37

50

34

15

Whether there are artificial colors/flavors

50

18

32

50

33

17

Whether it is GMO free

44

18

26

56

31

25

Ethical practices (e.g., free range, fair trade)

42

12

30

58

37

20

Whether it is organic

34

11

22

66

37

29

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 

TABLE 2b

IMPORTANCE OF FACTORS WHILE SHOPPING

Summary of “Important (NET)”

By Generation, Gender & Children in Household

“When shopping for food at the grocery store, how important is each of the following to you when making decisions between food products?”

Base: All adults

 

Total

Generation

Gender

Children in HH

Millennials

(18-35)

Gen Xers

(36-50)

Baby Boomers

(51-69)

Matures

(70+)

Men

Women

Yes

No

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Sugar content

69

69

65

68

80

64

74

71

68

Fat content

66

62

63

68

77

62

70

65

67

Sodium content

64

61

57

69

77

62

67

63

64

Total calories/Calories per serving

64

65

60

62

73

60

68

66

63

Whether it is antibiotic free/hormone free

53

60

51

49

53

48

59

60

50

Whether it is locally grown or sourced

50

54

49

47

53

47

53

56

47

Whether there are artificial colors/flavors

50

52

47

51

46

44

55

55

47

Whether it is GMO free

44

51

41

41

40

40

49

51

41

Ethical practices (e.g., free range, fair trade)

42

50

44

36

37

41

44

48

39

Whether it is organic

34

47

36

24

20

35

33

46

28

 

TABLE 2c

IMPORTANCE OF FACTORS WHILE SHOPPING

Summary of “Important (NET)”

By Metro status & Shops for locally sourced/grown food

“When shopping for food at the grocery store, how important is each of the following to you when making decisions between food products?”

Base: All adults

 

Total

Metro Status

Shops for locally sourced/grown food

Urban

Suburban

Rural

Yes

No

%

%

%

%

%

%

Sugar content

69

73

67

67

72

56

Fat content

66

67

66

64

69

55

Sodium content

64

63

64

65

67

51

Total calories/Calories per serving

64

63

64

63

66

54

Whether it is antibiotic free/hormone free

53

56

53

51

59

29

Whether it is locally grown or sourced

50

55

48

51

57

19

Whether there are artificial colors/flavors

50

54

49

47

55

25

Whether it is GMO free

44

49

44

40

49

23

Ethical practices (e.g., free range, fair trade)

42

49

42

35

47

22

Whether it is organic

34

42

32

28

39

11

 

 

TABLE 3

DISTANCE TO BE CONSIDERED LOCAL

Grid Summary

“Thinking of each of the following types of products, what is the farthest it can come from in order for you to still consider it to be local?”

Base: All adults

 

WITHIN STATE OR CLOSER
(NET)

WITHIN COUNTY OR CITY/TOWN (SUB-NET)

Within your city/town

Within your county

A neighboring county

Within your state

A neighboring state

Within your country

Don’t know

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Baked goods

77

47

28

19

10

20

6

7

10

Dairy

74

28

12

15

12

35

8

9

8

Produce (e.g., fresh fruits, fresh vegetables)

72

31

15

16

11

29

8

11

9

Meat

68

25

11

14

11

32

8

14

11

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 

TABLE 4a

IMPORTANCE OF BUYING LOCAL GROWN/SOURCED

Grid Summary

“When shopping for food at the grocery store, how important is it to you to buy locally grown/sourced food in the following departments?”

Base: All adults

 

IMPORTANT

(NET)

Very important

Important

NOT IMPORTANT (NET)

Not that important

Not at all important

%

%

%

%

%

%

Produce

67

20

47

33

22

11

Dairy

56

16

43

44

30

14

Bakery

55

17

38

45

29

16

Meat

52

14

38

48

32

16

Deli

43

11

32

57

37

20

Seafood

39

14

25

61

32

29

Frozen foods

26

8

18

74

41

33

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 

TABLE 4b

IMPORTANCE OF BUYING LOCAL GROWN/SOURCED

Summary of “Important (NET)”

By Generation, Gender & Children in Household

“When shopping for food at the grocery store, how important is it to you to buy locally grown/sourced food in the following departments?”

Base: All adults

 

Total

Generation

Gender

Children in HH

Millennials

(18-35)

Gen Xers

(36-50)

Baby Boomers

(51-69)

Matures

(70+)

Men

Women

Yes

No

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Produce

67

69

64

64

71

63

69

73

63

Dairy

56

57

52

56

57

57

54

61

53

Bakery

55

55

55

53

59

57

53

62

51

Meat

52

63

48

47

43

50

54

63

46

Deli

43

53

38

38

41

44

42

55

37

Seafood

39

44

39

36

34

37

41

47

35

Frozen foods

26

35

25

22

10

26

26

36

20


 

TABLE 4c

IMPORTANCE OF BUYING LOCAL GROWN/SOURCED

Summary of “Important (NET)”

By Metro status & Shops for locally sourced/grown food

“When shopping for food at the grocery store, how important is it to you to buy locally grown/sourced food in the following departments?”

Base: All adults

 

Total

Metro Status

Shops for locally sourced/grown food

Urban

Suburban

Rural

Yes

No

%

%

%

%

%

%

Produce

67

69

66

66

74

36

Dairy

56

61

53

55

62

28

Bakery

55

58

54

52

62

26

Meat

52

57

49

54

59

23

Deli

43

50

42

38

48

23

Seafood

39

48

38

30

44

18

Frozen foods

26

36

20

25

29

13

 

TABLE 5a

PURCHASE CHANNEL FOR LOCALLY GROWN/SOURCED FOOD

By Generation, Gender & Children in Household

“Where do you shop for locally sourced/grown food?”

Base: All adults

 

Total

Generation

Gender

Children in HH

Millennials

(18-35)

Gen Xers

(36-50)

Baby Boomers

(51-69)

Matures

(70+)

Men

Women

Yes

No

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Shops for locally sourced/grown food (NET)

81

85

81

80

73

82

81

89

77

Traditional grocery retailer

46

41

56

50

50

47

46

42

49

Farmers’ market

44

47

56

41

42

43

45

48

42

Farm stand

27

24

25

28

34

25

29

27

26

Big box retailer (e.g., Wal-Mart, Target)

18

24

17

15

11

17

18

24

14

Club store (e.g., Costco, Sam’s Club)

16

20

14

13

16

15

17

20

13

Food cooperative (a grocery store that is collectively started, owned and run by its members)

8

12

10

4

4

8

7

11

6

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) or “Farm Share” – food subscription “service” from local farm(s)

5

7

5

3

1

5

5

8

3

Online

4

10

3

1

*

8

1

9

2

Somewhere else

4

6

4

4

2

5

4

5

4

I don’t specifically shop for locally sourced or grown food

19

15

19

20

27

18

19

11

23

Note: Multiple responses allowed.

 

TABLE 5b

PURCHASE CHANNEL FOR LOCALLY GROWN/SOURCED FOOD

By Metro status

“Where do you shop for locally sourced/grown food?”

Base: All adults

 

Total

Metro Status

Urban

Suburban

Rural

%

%

%

%

Shops for locally sourced/grown food (NET)

81

80

81

83

Traditional grocery retailer

46

42

50

43

Farmers’ market

44

43

46

41

Farm stand

27

18

29

32

Big box retailer (e.g., Wal-Mart, Target)

18

22

13

24

Club store (e.g., Costco, Sam’s Club)

16

20

16

10

Food cooperative (a grocery store that is collectively started, owned and run by its members)

8

12

6

7

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) or “Farm Share” – food subscription “service” from local farm(s)

5

8

3

4

Online

4

12

2

1

Somewhere else

4

5

5

3

I don’t specifically shop for locally sourced or grown food

19

20

19

17

Note: Multiple responses allowed.

 

TABLE 6a

ACTION WHEN NO LOCAL OPTION IS AVAILABLE

By Generation, Gender & Children in Household

“If you’re food shopping and can’t find a locally sourced/grown option, which of the following best describes the action you will take?”

Base: Ever shops for locally sourced/grown food

 

Total

Generation

Gender

Children in HH

Millennials

(18-35)

Gen Xers

(36-50)

Baby Boomers

(51-69)

Matures

(70+)

Men

Women

Yes

No

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Purchase a non-local version of the product

62

52

69

65

69

60

65

53

68

Look for a local version of the product at a different location

28

37

23

24

19

29

26

37

22

Don’t purchase the product

10

11

8

10

12

11

9

10

10

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding.

 

TABLE 6b

ACTION WHEN NO LOCAL OPTION IS AVAILABLE

By Metro status

“If you’re food shopping and can’t find a locally sourced/grown option, which of the following best describes the action you will take?”

Base: All adults

 

Total

Metro Status

Urban

Suburban

Rural

%

%

%

%

Purchase a non-local version of the product

62

55

63

69

Look for a local version of the product at a different location

28

33

28

20

Don’t purchase the product

10

13

9

11

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding


 

TABLE 7a

BELIEFS ABOUT LOCALLY SOURCED/GROWN FOOD PRODUCTS

By Generation, Gender & Children in Household

“Which of the following, if any, do you believe to be true of locally sourced or grown food products, as compared to non-local products? Please select all that apply.”

Base: All adults

 

Total

Generation

Gender

Children in HH

Millennials

(18-35)

Gen Xers

(36-50)

Baby Boomers

(51-69)

Matures

(70+)

Men

Women

Yes

No

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Believe something (NET)

91

92

91

91

91

89

93

94

90

It supports the local economy

69

61

70

74

78

64

74

62

73

It’s fresher

68

62

62

72

82

62

73

64

69

It supports individual local businesses

63

54

64

67

78

59

67

57

67

I better understand where the food comes from

39

38

38

40

41

33

45

38

40

It tastes better

37

39

32

36

46

30

44

39

36

It’s higher quality

32

42

27

25

38

30

34

40

28

It’s healthier

31

36

27

29

35

26

36

34

30

It’s better for the environment

25

27

26

23

27

22

29

26

25

It’s safer

24

30

21

22

24

20

29

29

22

It costs less

20

24

18

15

24

20

19

23

18

None of these

9

8

9

9

9

11

7

6

10

Note: Multiple responses allowed.

 

TABLE 7b

BELIEFS ABOUT LOCALLY SOURCED/GROWN FOOD PRODUCTS

By Metro status & Shops for locally sourced/grown food

“Which of the following, if any, do you believe to be true of locally sourced or grown food products, as compared to non-local products? Please select all that apply.”

Base: All adults

 

Total

Metro Status

Shops for locally sourced/grown food

Urban

Suburban

Rural

Yes

No

%

%

%

%

%

%

Believe something (NET)

91

90

92

92

96

71

It supports the local economy

69

60

72

74

73

56

It’s fresher

68

62

70

69

72

48

It supports individual local businesses

63

51

67

69

66

52

I better understand where the food comes from

39

38

41

36

43

23

It tastes better

37

33

37

42

42

18

It’s higher quality

32

36

31

31

36

14

It’s healthier

31

30

32

32

35

16

It’s better for the environment

25

28

26

21

28

13

It’s safer

24

25

24

24

28

10

It costs less

20

18

19

22

22

8

None of these

9

10

8

8

4

29

Note: Multiple responses allowed.

 

TABLE 8a

REASONS FOR BUYING LOCALLY SOURCED/GROWN FOOD PRODUCTS

By Generation, Gender & Children in Household

“And which of these, if any, are among your top reasons for shopping locally sourced or grown food products? You may select up to two.”

Base: Shops local and sees at least one advantage

 

Total

Generation

Gender

Children in HH

Millennials
(18-35)

Gen Xers
(36-50)

Baby Boomers (51-69)

Matures (70+)

Men

Women

Yes

No

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

It supports the local economy

39

31

47

43

37

35

43

33

44

It’s fresher

34

27

32

38

51

32

36

31

37

It supports individual local businesses

32

31

30

35

34

34

31

29

34

It’s healthier

12

15

11

12

10

10

14

14

12

It tastes better

12

14

9

12

13

12

11

13

12

I better understand where the food comes from

12

13

10

11

13

9

14

14

11

It’s higher quality

8

16

4

2

8

11

5

11

5

It’s better for the environment

7

7

10

4

5

7

6

7

7

It costs less

5

6

5

4

2

5

4

5

4

It’s safer

3

4

3

4

1

3

3

4

2

Note: Multiple responses allowed.

 

TABLE 8b

REASONS FOR BUYING LOCALLY SOURCED/GROWN FOOD PRODUCTS

By Metro status

“And which of these, if any, are among your top reasons for shopping locally sourced or grown food products? You may select up to two.”

Base: Shops local and sees at least one advantage

 

Total

Metro Status

Urban

Suburban

Rural

%

%

%

%

It supports the local economy

39

35

41

39

It’s fresher

34

32

35

35

It supports individual local businesses

32

23

35

37

It’s healthier

12

14

12

12

It tastes better

12

14

11

12

I better understand where the food comes from

12

9

14

9

It’s higher quality

8

14

4

7

It’s better for the environment

7

8

7

5

It costs less

5

6

4

5

It’s safer

3

4

3

2

Note: Multiple responses allowed. 


 

Methodology

This Harris Poll was conducted online, in English, within the United States between October 14 and 19, 2015 among 2,225 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online. 

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words “margin of error” as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

The Harris Poll® #78, December 8, 2015

By Allyssa Birth, Senior Research Analyst, The Harris Poll