The food distribution system is a complex network of producers and purchasers that operate across wholesale and retail food outlets, including institutional settings, grocery stores, convenience stores and bodegas, restaurants, and farmers markets. Integral to the movement of food from producer to the final customer is a network of buyers, trucks, and storage facilities.
Local foods can be routed separately in a relatively short supply chain, such as farm to farmers market, or in longer chains around the region or the globe. Small producers and retailers experience difficulty connecting with the existing distribution system, which is optimized for efficiently moving large quantities of product. Several factors contribute to this difficulty: the small size of the producer or retail operations, the quantity of their product, and a lack of knowledge of distribution options.
The distribution methods for local food currently in effect are often inefficient and costly, which tends to marginalize products from smaller operations. Larger operations either have secured a place in the distribution network through their volume, or have their own fleet of trucks.
The wholesale market also has specific requirements for product preparation and packaging that differ significantly from retail requirements. All of these factors can deter small producers from being able to enter the wholesale market.