By Peter Allison, Executive Director

Posted March 22, 2018

News

FINE Report Explores a New England Food Hub Network

Enhance food hub collaboration and increase New England farm to institution sales with these four recommendations

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Farm to Institution New England (FINE) has released a new report outlining four recommendations to enhance collaboration between food hubs and increase the sale of local food to institutions in New England. The report follows research conducted by Karen Karp & Partners (KK&P) for FINE in 2017 to assess specific opportunities for local farm and food businesses (including food hubs) in the institutional market, and develop a model for New England food hubs to partner with each other in a trade network.

The project was funded by a Local Food Promotion Program planning grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Marketing Service

"Institutional food service at K-12 schools, colleges and universities, hospitals, corporate dining services, and congregate meal sites represents a large potential market for regionally produced foods, yet farmers, processors, food hubs, and other businesses focused on locally grown and produced foods have experienced diverse barriers to entry in that marketplace," said Shayna Cohen, senior consultant at KK&P and project lead.

Our research revealed that institutions are currently only a small part (proportionally) of most New England food hubs’ annual sales. Within the institutional market, most hubs have found the greatest success with universities, however, some are also serving K-12 schools and health care facilities.

Key challenges food hubs face across these institutional sectors include (a) seasonal product availability, and (b) the ability to process local product while keeping prices competitive. Perhaps most significantly, research revealed the extent to which food service procurement protocol, group purchasing organizations, and very slim discretionary food budgets dictate and shape institutional local food procurement opportunities.

With a goal of increased access to institutional and other markets, almost all participating food hubs indicated that they have explored or participated in trade or partnerships with other food hubs, and all expressed interest in increasing trade and collaboration.

Recommendations

This report’s recommendations center around the creation of a regional food hub network, including the following initiatives:

  1. Develop a business-to-business trade platform for food hubs to buy products from and sell it to other food hubs

  2. Establish food service management company local food working groups

  3. Hire a collaborative sales force to serve multiple food hubs marketing to the Boston area

  4. Form a New England regional food hub support network

This report summarizes the findings of research conducted on the six New England food hubs, six Boston area institutions, regional distributors and national food hub networks, as well as the recommendations for FINE and/or a potential regional food hub network.

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About the Project

In the fall of 2016, FINE received a USDA Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP) planning grant to explore opportunities for food hubs to increase their sales to regional institutions in order to: (a) increase the amount of local food flowing into institutions, and (b) leverage institutional markets for food hub growth and long-term viability. FINE retained KK&P, a food system consulting firm, to conduct this research.    

Six food hubs across the six New England states participated in this research through in-depth interviews, facility tours, and in-person group discussions. The research team also interviewed stakeholders from six institutions in the greater Boston area, leading institutional distributors, and representatives from food service management companies in the region. Background research on transactional and support-focused food hub networks across the country provided additional context to the local interviews and analysis.


Report cover photo by Peter Goldberg, courtesy of Farm Fresh RI
Header photo by Richard Howard, courtesy of the Henry P. Kendall Foundation