A Local Deception

October 01, 2009
Written by
Local is in. We hear over and over that going local results in products that are fresher and supports community merchants. In the last few years, the “Go Local” movement has boomed, thanks in part to the 100-mile diet, food contamination issues and a tough economy. You’ve likely seen the local movement thrive at your garden centre through the increased sales of seeds and growing interest in vegetable gardens.

You aren’t the only ones taking notice. Where there’s money to be made, marketers will jump on board. The Go Local phenomenon has fallen victim to a new marketing ploy called localwashing, a variation on the green movement’s greenwashing. Localwashing is done when a company – big or small – promotes or misleads customers into thinking that a product is local when it just isn’t so.

Look closely and you’ll start to see examples that stretch the truth popping up more frequently. There are outright false claims and varying degrees of the truth. Walk into a big-box retailer and you might see a large “local” banner suspended above the fruits and veggies. Sure, one flat of apples might have come from a nearby orchard but you’d be hard-pressed to source every vegetable or fruit there back to a local farmer. One potato chip manufacturer’s latest campaign has been promoting the fact that its potato chips are made from “good old Canadian spuds.” While the company is careful not to say that the potatoes are cultivated locally in your neighbour’s field, the ads do convey a feeling of local-ness. HSBC, an international bank with 8,500 offices in 86 countries, has even made local a part of its branding, proclaiming itself as “The world’s local bank.”

One of the more obvious instances of localwashing is 15th Ave Coffee & Tea, a Seattle coffee shop that opened this summer and promises to offer coffee-lovers a local, rustic, independent, neighbourhood coffee house experience. The catch is that the coffee shop was opened by Starbucks under a different name, a little trick that’s inflamed consumers and attracted protestors.

When it comes to Go Local marketing at your garden centre, take caution when a product has to travel a little farther to your store. Don’t call a product local if it’s not – in a country as big as Canada, a shrub you purchased from a nearby province doesn’t fall into the local category. Misleading your customers will only cause them to question your operation and lead them to shop elsewhere.

Your business is actually at an advantage when it comes to this movement. Much of your product mix is grown by local suppliers or, in some cases, in your own greenhouses. Don’t be afraid to promote this, as it’s a strong marketing tool. Have fun with it – include a small map of where the product came from or advertise the amount of time it took you to carry your products from the greenhouse to the retail area. Give shoppers a tour of your growing facilities. Shoppers love to hear the story behind a product and they will likely share the tale with friends and family.

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