Demand for locally-grown foods is on the rise and thanks to research funded by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Iowa food crop producers and restaurateurs have a better understanding of how to maximize their working relationship. An online calculator will even help Iowa farmers determine the profitability of various food crops.
Recently-completed work studied the costs and decision-making processes of independent restaurateurs, local food producers, and restaurant patrons. Increased understanding of these attitudes may help expand the availability of locally-grown foods in Iowa restaurants.
A free Produce Profitability Calculator, on the Web at www.iastatelocalfoods.org/calculator, helps producers create scenarios to help make decisions about what and how much to plant as well as sales decisions such as how, where, when and setting a price. The tool was developed as part of a Leopold Center competitive grant to the Hotel, Restaurant and Institution Management program at ISU. A user's manual for the calculator is at: www.leopold.iastate.edu/research/marketing_files/profitability_0108.pdf.
Tool helps determine profitability
Researchers found that managers and chefs consider freshness of the food, reliability of the supply, quality of product, sanitary handling of products, and appropriate packaging of meat and poultry products to be most important when considering purchasing local foods.
Currently, restaurants require more time to source local products, and preparation and delivery time also is greater. Initial results of the project show that actual food costs may be competitive, although farmers may need to fine-tune how they price their products.
The producers who were interviewed for the project saw some benefits and costs associated with selling to local restaurants vs. other outlets such as direct sales to consumers at farmers markets. Most of the producers thought that their prices to restaurants could be higher, and most were interested in continuing to sell to restaurants.
One of the challenges identified by producers wishing to continue sales was development of purchase agreements and information based on the needs of restaurants. Improved communication between producers and restaurants and more sophisticated decision-making tools are needed, the study found.
Through its research and education programs, the Center supports development of profitable farming systems that conserve natural resources. Center funding comes from state appropriations and from fees on nitrogen fertilizer and pesticides, as established by the 1987 Iowa Groundwater Protection Act.