In early July, Spartan Foods (Family Fare, D&W, etc) launched their version of the Buy Local movement – Michigan’s Best campaign to promote 2,400 Michigan made or grown products that they sell in their stores. Walking through their stores they have put Michigan’s Best tags next to the price cards by the products(see image). So they definitely made it easy for passive or active buy local consumers to purchase these goods in the store. It is commendable for Spartan to be doing this because the buy local movement has been growing and more people have started to adapt to this mentality to support their community in this difficult economic time. Generally associated with the Buy Local movement are small retailers (one location) or local farmers, and farmers markets. Some people are starting to avoid the supermarkets (at least for produce) and shop at farmers markets, or grow their own. The Michigan’s Best campaign takes that buy local movement and moves it into a supermarket environment, which usually the last thing that comes to mind when you think local. This allows people with noble intentions (buying local, supporting local businesses) to support this cause quite easily just by visiting the store. For a list of products under this campaign check out this PDF. But the campaign does have its gray area. For example go down the soda aisle and you will see Michigan’s Best signs everywhere, for the obvious Faygo, then going to the gray areas like Dr. Pepper/7-Up products, Coca Cola, and Pepsi products. I am guessing that national brands are bottled here in Michigan, so it is somewhat produced in the state, but I would have to question whether or not the revenues from those products would stay in the state. Now the next major question is whether or not all the Spartan branded products are part of the Michigan’s Best campaign, because although only 20% of Spartan branded products are made in Michigan, but buying any of their products benefit Spartan Foods (I guess this is another homework assignment).
Now let’s take a look at how they are rolling out this program – They have a devoted section on their website, which gives an introduction to the benefits of buying local. Next they have a list of companies and farms (with video links on the farmers talking about their products – nice human element touch) which are made in Michigan, and finally they have their shopping list (which does not seem to be very helpful but it is a starting point, and it is better than telling people to just look for Michigan’s Best logo.) Additionally, it is stated that they will have product demonstrations done by the manufacturers on the locally made products. Lastly, in their weekly circular in the Sunday paper, they identify the items on sale that week which are made in Michigan.
Now what else could they do? Jump out of the box with me and think about this: Have Spartan set up a stand at the local area farmers markets (Fulton Street, Holland, amongst others). They would be selling produce while having a chance to highlight what farms are supplying the food, and their store and the Michigan’s Best campaign would be exposed to a crowd, who are likely embracing the buying local movement and therefore may have begun to not shop as much at supermarket stores, and may begin to view Spartan Stores as an ally. They can even offer a sneak peek as to what fresh produce will be on sale next week at their stores. By rotating which market they would participate on a weekly basis, they can increase their exposure and get the message out that “Hey we sell local food too, check us out!” Of course this idea may all be for naught because the market organizers may not allow a grocer to set up a booth, in that case just set it up in the parking lot.