consumer expectations, uniform definition, regulations, local food movement, local food labeling, food miles, food product diversity, marketing, efficiency

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Locally grown food products are becoming increasingly popular among consumers. In response, many food retailers are devoting more space to locally grown products. The locally grown label is part of a marketing strategy designed to take advantage of consumer desires for fresh and safe products that support local farmers and help the environment. Many consumers believe that locally grown food is "fresher, has fewer chemicals, and comes from smaller, less corporate farms.' This increased demand from consumers has led to an "explosion of the use of the word 'local' in food marketing." However, there is no single definition of "local" or "local food systems" in terms of the geographic distance between production and sales. Therefore, retailers may, and often do have much broader definitions of "local" than consumers do. Currently, definitions related to geographic distance between production and sales vary by regions, companies, consumers, and local food markets. For example, Wal-Mart, the nation's biggest retailer, considers anything "local" if it is grown in the same state as it is sold, regardless of the size of the state. Whole Foods, the largest retailer of natural and organic foods, considers "local" to be anything produced within a seven-hour drive of a store. Supervalu, which operates supermarket chains such as Albertsons and Jewel-Osco, "defines 'local' as within regions that can encompass four or five states." Safeway considers anything to be "local" if it comes from the same state or within a one-day drive from the field to the store, and many retailers simply leave it up to individual store managers. In some cases, unchecked retailers simply slap a "local" label on food from several states away, or even from other countries. For example, under "the words 'Home Grown,' [a] Wegmans in Hunt Valley offered eggplants grown so far away - the Netherlands - that their stickers were in French." This lack of uniformity causes confusion among consumers, and gives retailers wide latitude when labeling food "locally grown."