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.
Recommendation 2.1: Foster relationships between producers, distributors, wholesalers, and retailers that facilitate and prioritize sale and purchase of Massachusetts-grown and -produced products.
Action 2.1.1: Dedicate resources for a full-time staff position at MDAR to provide technical support and build relationships to facilitate Massachusetts farms, fisheries, and businesses to participate in the wholesale and hotel, restaurant, and institution markets.
Action 2.1.2: Educate retailers and distributors about the benefits of carrying and promoting Massachusetts products.
Action 2.1.3: Provide information to distributors about locally grown, raised, caught, and produced products available for wholesale in the State.
Recommendation 2.2: Strengthen coordination of distribution across producers, distributors, wholesalers, and retail operators.
Action 2.2.1: Develop and pilot workable arrangements that avoid empty or partially empty loads in shipping vehicles and disseminate as models.
Action 2.2.2: Support the work of distribution ‘matchmakers’ that connect food producers and processors with markets.
Recommendation 2.3: Understand and map existing production and processing systems and the distribution patterns associated with them as a tool for greater efficiency.
Action 2.3.1: Collect information on wholesale sales and distribution for specific products such as cranberries, apples, dairy, lettuce, maple syrup, summer squash, winter squash, tomatoes, as well as other important Massachusetts products and cultural foods. Use this data as a benchmark to measure efforts to increase local production in the Commonwealth.
Action 2.3.2: Research and disseminate information about the chain of certification from producer to wholesale dock, especially in regard to non-Massachusetts and global production, and use that information to propose changes in distribution practices to provide better access to wholesale markets for local producers.
Action 2.3.3: Analyze successful and failed distribution business models and develop case studies. Disseminate the information and data.
Action 2.3.4: Inventory and map aggregation opportunities that can facilitate small-scale producers selling to large-scale operations. As part of this information, gather data on quality specifications, packaging, and volume requirements.
Action 2.3.5: Create and maintain a publicly available list and map of distribution, storage, and aggregation operations, including capacity, location, and services for produce, farm products, processed food, and fish and other seafood.
Action 2.3.6: Develop and disseminate tools for food producers that enable them to identify markets based on their product specifications and quantities.
Recommendation 2.4: Identify, review, and revise State policies that help or hinder the distribution of Massachusetts-produced and -processed foods.
Action 2.4.1: Identify, through discussion with public and private stakeholders, State policies that impede the distribution of Massachusetts food, and revise accordingly.
Action 2.4.2: Disseminate information to food system businesses about programs that support purchasing of local goods, including E.O. 503 Small Business Purchasing Program and the Supplier Diversity Program.
Action 2.4.3: Develop and share standardized contract language for all State agencies and municipal purchasers to enable greater purchasing of Massachusetts-produced food products.
Action 2.4.4: Allow hard copy business paperwork to be filed at regional offices, rather than only in Boston.
Action 2.4.5: Provide better information for co-operative enterprises by adding an electronic template/option or co-op incorporation forms on the Secretary of State website and by adding language appropriate to all kinds of business models.
Action 2.4.6: Set legislative standard to review science-based health regulations every five years.