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Interesting story in USA Today this morning about the definition of “local,” which has become a powerful marketing term in a lot of areas of the country.

According to the story, “The ‘locally grown’ label is part of retailers' push to tap into consumer desires for fresh and safe products that support small, local farmers and help the environment because they're not trucked so far. At least one consumer survey has showed that whether something is locally grown is now more important than whether it is organic (which many local products are not).

“But retailers may have far broader definitions of ‘local’ than consumers do. And while freshness is more likely if food isn't trucked so far, food-safety experts say there's no evidence that locally grown products are safer, especially because small producers often lack the food-safety audits more common among big producers.”

Examples cited by USA Today:

• “Wal-Mart, the nation's biggest retailer, considers anything local if it's grown in the same state as it's sold, even if that's a state as big as Texas and the food comes from a farm half the size of Manhattan, as in the case of the 7,000-acre Ham Produce in North Carolina.”

• “Whole Foods, the biggest retailer of natural and organic foods, considers local to be anything produced within seven hours of one of its stores. The retailer says most local producers are within 200 miles of a store.”

• “Seattle's PCC Natural Markets considers local to be anything from Washington, Oregon and southern British Columbia.”

And consumer research specialist The Hartman Group has found that among the customers it has surveyed, 50 percent defined local as within 100 miles; 37 percent said within the same state.

KC's View:
Seems to me that there are two components to this.

First, the store has to clearly define “local” for its consumers – in-store, online and any place else that it can think of. Clarity and specificity always solve a ton of problems…and I’m not sure it matters if one store in a community defines it one way and the store across the street defines sit differently. Assuming, of course, that the definition is credible.

Second, the definition’s credibility probably is situational. And should be. I’m not sure that “local” will mean the same in Rhode Island as it would in Oregon.