BrightFarms brings fresh, local produce to retail

Short, decentralized produce supply chain could help address food deserts

WHAT IT MEANS AND WHY IT'S IMPORTANT — Quietly but noticeably, two trends have been occurring over the past few years: A move toward "locavorism" and a demand for fresh produce. The fresh produce trend is evident from a Produce Marketing Association consumer survey from 2010 that showed an increased interest in buying fresh fruits and vegetables and shopping at farmer's markets, while such retailers as Bartell Drugs, Meijer and Duane Reade are devoting significant shelf space to locally sourced products.

(THE NEWS: Cub Foods, BrightFarms to provide year-round local produce to Twin Cities. For the full story, click here)

That's part of the reason why such supermarkets as Supervalu banner Cub Foods have signed up with BrightFarms to provide fresh, locally grown produce. So far, BrightFarms hasn't signed on with any drug store chains, but in a recent interview that will appear in the June 25 issue of Drug Store News, CEO Paul Lightfoot said a supply agreement with a drug chain would work in a way similar to the company's agreements with supermarkets.

Instead of growing everything in one central location for long-distance shipping, BrightFarms signs a contract with a retailer to supply a specific microregion, financing, designing and building the hydroponic greenhouse and then selling the produce to the retailer at competitive prices. The result is produce that, as Lightfoot put it in a recent TED talk, is grown for flavor rather than being grown to stay preserved for long trips across the country. Currently, BrightFarms focuses on leaf and vine produce such as lettuce, mustard greens, tomatoes and cucumbers and herbs.

How this applies to retailers, especially retail pharmacies, should be obvious. Retail pharmacies and other small-format retailers are in an ideal position to step in and address the problem of food deserts, and many already have sought to do so. The ability to provide fresh produce year-round to a specific region would allow a retailer — even a large, national chain — to address the food desert problem in a limited area.

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