Folks all across the food industry today are more than familiar with the go-local trend. Nearly every prevailing macro trend ties back to go-local, including gluten-free (a reaction to monocropping and a desire for grain diversity), sustainability (distrust of industrial farming techniques, promoting “ethical” food), better-for-you (local products, regardless of scientific realities, are seen as healthier) and artisan. While empirically each of these points pose valid, sufficiently complex discussion points (look at the misinformation surrounding gluten-free…), the average consumer is unlikely to dig deeper into the nitty-gritty realities of the big picture. Perception is reality, and the industry has shown it will react. So how does local—which impacts consumer purchase decision-making across the board—factor into our thinking?
A recent development in the go-local movement relates to small-batch grain milling and subsequent local grain/flour sourcing. A great example is Chicago’s Baker Miller Flour & Grain, run by Dave and Megan Miller (former owners of Chicago restaurant/bakery, Bang Bang Pie Shop). It’s a grain-centric restaurant and bakery, but also an instrumental force in helping spearhead a wholesale grain operation—a network of farmers, millers, chefs, traders, distribution and sales—to supply local, organic, non-GMO, artisan flours for greater Chicagoland area bakers.
Baker Miller’s Sunflower Seed bread got a nod from Bon Appétit back in March in the wake of their interview late last year (“How Chicago's Baker Miller is Changing the Way We Think About Grains, One Customer at a Time”). They personally mill all the grain for their operation, plus a retail line that can include whole-grain, organic pastry flour, all-purpose flour, bread flour, stone-cut oatmeal and heirloom grits.
They’re bringing the flavors of freshly milled grains to some people for the first time in their lives. Think about other pantry staples, like coffee’s growth from second wave to third wave, salt diversification, mass accessibility of decent wine, the ongoing microbrew revolution, etc.—many of which are tied to the continued rise of artisan food. Select retail and foodservice grain providers continue to move in this direction, providing artisan grains for home bakers and chefs.
Just as smaller-scale bakeries and snack producers continue to grab more category share—a trend that will continue—we’re seeing the same pattern develop across the supply chain. For an up-and-coming company with rising sales and increasing distribution across a particular area, local sourcing of artisan grain—with associated promotion of that fact—could prove quite attractive.
And while it doesn’t make sense for a national product to invest in local ingredients per se, it does make sense to call out locale distinctions—grain from a particular farm, berries from a known growing region, chocolate specifics regarding origin and type. Think artisan and heritage—ingredients with a sense of place—even terroir. Such ingredient designations lend transparency to the product, telling its story, drawing the shopper in for a closer look, helping close the deal on that moment-of-truth purchase decision.