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Advertise the Seasons!

Have individual supermarkets advertise the fact that certain foods are currently in season nearby. During its local harvest, a product is likely to be among the most delicious, cheap, healthy, and locally/sustainably produced item in the store. I want to be connected to my food production but I don't have the foggiest idea when to harvest a cucumber. Localized ads focused on harvest seasons could help solve this problem.

Photo of CJ Adams
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A few weeks ago, a friend of mine who works on a farm gave me a shopping list for a dinner we were planning, and I went to the store and picked everything out. Without thinking, my friend had naturally only chosen to buy things that were currently in season. I was amazed by how much better my food tasted. It was cheap too! On top of that, without ever trying, I had purchased a majority of my produce from nearby farms. The only difference between the shopping list that she gave me, and the one I would have made, was that she knew what was in season and I didn't.

The concept here would be to take the existing infrastructure of localized supermarket advertising (both print and in-store mediums) and use it to inform customers about what products are in season to drive demand towards products that are easily sourced sustainably at any given time.

Many stores do a great job stocking local produce when it is in season near by, but customers like me never know what to look for in any given month. To see if you are in the same boat, ask yourself a few questions: When is it most sustainable to buy eggplant in your state? How about avocados? How about corn? Tomatoes? Apples? Unless you are familiar with local harvest cycles, you are probably as clueless as I am.

When I walk through a grocery store, I usually buy what I want regardless of what time of year it is and end up with stickers on food from thousands of miles away. When someone who knows the harvesting seasons walks into that same store, they buys what is in season, and they end up with fresher, better tasting food that is sourced locally.

I would love to see big color ads in the paper and on posters on the big sliding doors of grocery store entrance letting me know what is in season this week or this month. If I knew, I would buy it.

By simply telling customers what items are locally in season, we may be able to address the core goals of this challenge by increasing global sustainability and local happiness both on the farm and in the city. Instead of pulling people into a store with a coupon to a random product, we could pull them in with a connection to their local foodshed, an inside scoop on the most delicious thing around, and a natural trend of cost savings achieved by buying things when they are most plentiful.

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Photo of DeletedUser

DeletedUser

Love this, CJ! I know this has passed, but I wanted to comment anyway as this resonated with me a lot after having lived in Japan. In Japan, when you ask students what season they like, many say "I like XXXX season because I like YYYYY fruit." I remember being so impressed by the fact that they all knew which fruits were in season when as they tended to eat much more in line with the seasons than I did growning up in the US. I bet many American kids would have no idea when different fruits are in season as bananas and oranges and almost all fruit are available all year long. I agree with you - the more we KNOW, the more we know what to ask for, but until we are aware that a) fresh fruit that is locally grown and is in season is more delicious and b) which fruits those are at which times, we can't even begin to ask the right questions. Bring on the season signs!

Photo of Meena Kadri

They do this kind of promotion in my local independent supermarket (the rocking Moore Wilson's of Wellington) It's so great 'cause it gets you try new things that you'd probably skip if you were glued to your shopping list. They are so hyper-local that even the sawdust they throw down in the carpark when it's raining (to stop slipping) is sourced from a regional sawmill. Wait till I tell them they've been talked about on a global online platform of 14k awesome ideators!

Photo of CJ Adams

Awesome! I'd love to hear more about their execution. Do you think you could take a photo or two next time you happen to be in the store or maybe just post their website if they have one? It would be great to have a real life photos of a successful implementation! Thanks for sharing.

Photo of Sean Hewens

I too like the idea. One thing to keep in mind. I'm from Boston and we had a local grocery store in the South End that only stocked produce that was in season and locally available. Come December through March or April, it was essentially a produce section full of root vegetables like rutabagas. I'm not sure if the merchant was making a point that was lost on most of his / her customers, but the store closed down and is no longer in operation.

I would contrast the above with the farmer's markets that I've been to in Montreal in the dead of winter which are full of wonderful local produce or all sorts (and not just rutabagas!). My understanding of the difference between Massachusetts and Quebec is that the later has a wonderful infrastructure of greenhouses which allow for the production of local produce at all times of the year, whereas in Massachusetts, well we get rutabagas in the winter.

At the end of the day, the concept of only stocking local and in season produce is wonderful if you live in the Central Valley in California or in Boston in the non-winter months. But, will customers who live in places without the year-round agricultural infrastructure stand for rutabagas for three months in the winter or will they turn to mangoes from Peru and avocados from Mexico?

Photo of CJ Adams

Great thoughts. Thank you for sharing. I agree that rutabagas will always be a hard sell, and I doubt that this concept will have much success in the winter months (at least to start with). The goal I was aiming for was the low hanging fruit (sorry, no pun intended) of increasing the demand for sustainably sourced items when they are available. The hope would be to get people thinking about tomatoes and homemade salsa when tomatoes are locally available, and get them thinking about apples and pies when local orchards are harvesting. Because most of us dont grow food ourselves, our buying choices have become divorced from the seasons. I think that many local food advocates underestimate how disconnected consumers (myself included) have become.

While winter is probably a loss for now, I think that an ad campaign like this could be helpful in molding consumer demand to accurately follow harvests during the three seasons when consumers have lots of delicious options.

Also, reconnecting consumers to local harvests would serve to increase the profitability of local producers. It is a long shot, but if this campaign actually did push enough revenue to local sources, they might even be able to invest in some of the types of winter greenhouse systems that Sean mentioned above - thus allowing the sustainability to continue into winter.

Photo of CJ Adams

Sorry Sean! I meant to post that reply to JB's comment. Needless to say, I love the idea of the winter greenhouse systems, and think that this could be a fantastic way to extend the sustainability of this concept into the winter seasons. Do you know of any detailed resources explaining the system in Quebec? It is incredible that they are able to operate even with Canada's intense winters.

On your point about the farmers market, I agree that it is better to only have sustainable options available, but I fear that this type of solution may not be a viable option on a national scale where customers have grown accustomed to buying what they want, when they want.

Instead of working to develop a small base of absolutist, local-only customers, this plan would be aimed at making a subtle shift in a much larger pool of customers who (like me) are currently uninformed about when the freshest foods are available. Naturally the best solution would be for the masses to take a "no-banana" approach right away, but I think that getting the masses to start with a "buy apples in the fall" approach might be a feasible way of taking a major step in that direction.

Photo of CJ Adams

Man, I really jumbled up your comments with JBs. Sorry about that. Serves me right for trying to read these things on a phone!

Photo of Meena Kadri

Yeah – we need to look into a nudge that makes things more obvious. Will pass on the valid confusion to the OpenIDEO Team.

Photo of Meena Kadri

@CJ A – all good, as long as you weren't driving as well!

Photo of DeletedUser

DeletedUser

I like your idea of using existing advertising infrastructure to highlight local, seasonal food. But the existing advertising infrastructure of chain grocery stores points consumers to a suboptimal source.

Even if grocery stores do stock local produce when it is in season, they continue stocking that same produce the rest of the year from a distant source. The conventional grocery store business model is built on consistent offerings. Even Whole Foods, the closest thing to a sustainable grocery chain, serves NYC customers Jersey tomatoes when they're in season, but they continue serving California tomatoes for the rest of the year. When I'm in a grocery store, I'll buy some local produce, but it's hard for me not to buy bananas, a habitual consumption choice I've been making my whole life. On the other hand, when I'm in an NYC farmer's market in February, I don't think about bananas, because they're not on offer. Out of sight, out of mind. I think about which variety of apple I'd like this week.

Why not use advertising to point consumers to businesses wholly focused on local, seasonal products, such as farmers markets?

Photo of CJ Adams

Sorry JB! I got your thoughts jumbled up with Seans. Thank you for comment and I would love to hear your response to some of the responses I posted above.

Photo of DeletedUser

DeletedUser

I like your idea of using existing advertising infrastructure to highlight local, seasonal food. But the existing advertising infrastructure of chain grocery stores points consumers to a suboptimal source.

Even if grocery stores do stock local produce when it is in season, they continue stocking that same produce the rest of the year from a distant source. The conventional grocery store business model is built on consistent offerings. Even Whole Foods, the closest thing to a sustainable grocery chain, serves NYC customers Jersey tomatoes when they're in season, but they continue serving California tomatoes for the rest of the year. When I'm in a grocery store, I'll buy some local produce, but it's hard for me not to buy bananas, a habitual consumption choice I've been making my whole life. On the other hand, when I'm in an NYC farmer's market in February, I don't think about bananas, because they're not on offer. Out of sight, out of mind. I think about which variety of apple I'd like this week.

Why not use advertising to point consumers to businesses wholly focused on local, seasonal products, such as farmers markets?

Photo of Sarah Fathallah

I like the story you're sharing! Very well written concept I must say. Good job!

Photo of Vincent Cheng

Agreed with Sarah. This is a brilliant way of getting grocers involved through the methods they are already comfortable with using. If anything, it breaks them out of the mode of just promoting based on price, and broadening the appeal to the quality, freshness, and sustainability of local. Great Job CJ! Oh, and nice to see a fellow Brunonian on =)

Photo of Helen Moss

I agree too, great concept CJ!

Photo of DeletedUser

DeletedUser

I absolutely agree! This is a lovely concept and I would love to see it in real!