Indiana Grown program feeds demand for local foods
ROANOKE — Seven Sons Farms is a farm-to-consumer operation near Roanoke known for its pastured eggs, dairy products, grass-fed beef and free-range poultry and pork.
The popularity of its eggs at Earth Fare and the 3 Rivers Natural Food Co-op & Deli stores in Fort Wayne convinced Seven Sons to expand just as the state was launching a program to help restaurants and retailers accommodate growing consumer demand for locally sourced food.
The July launch of the Indiana Grown program by the Indiana State Department of Agriculture could not have been timed better for Seven Sons, said Blaine Hitzfield, who is in charge of the company’s marketing and distribution.
“We were kind of scaling our egg business and were just starting to work with a distributor out of Indianapolis. This distributor was working closely with Indiana Grown on some projects, some promotional things, and we were just redoing our egg carton labels,” he said.
“We were one of the first producers to put ‘100 percent Indiana Grown’ labels on our product, and Indiana Grown has done a lot to create awareness with some of the grocery retailer chains in the state. There was a lot of synergy there. It sure helped things.”
Since putting on the new labels, Seven Sons’ pastured eggs were picked up by Lucky’s Market in Bloomington, Market District in Carmel and teds market in Fort Wayne. The company also has talks underway with Whole Foods in Indianapolis.
Keeping money local
Many other local food businesses also are growing as a result of the program, including some in northeast Indiana, said David King, who manages it for Indiana’s Agriculture Department.
“Since we launched, our membership has already doubled,” he said. “We’re at 300 and adding two or three members a day. We even have some non-food products now that are under the Indiana Grown logo.”
Many consumers feel strongly enough about locally grown food that they are willing to pay more for it, but until Indiana Grown marketing brought attention to source locations through labels and special displays, it was not easy to tell where a food was grown.
Consumers have appreciated the information the program provides and are using it.
“Our Indiana Grown program is growing at a much greater rate than we anticipated, and that’s a great thing,” King said. Consumers are paying more attention to where food comes from, he said, “and are buying more products from Indiana, which keeps more money circulating in our state.”
A number of local food businesses that started selling products in Kroger and Marsh supermarkets or increased the variety of their products sold in the chains have had to step up production to keep pace with the increased demand, he said.
Roanoke-based Best Boy & Co., for example, has seen its sales increase 400 percent through participation in the program, according to its founder, Wayne Shive.
Shive started the handcrafted, all-natural artisan food products company — known for its savory and dessert sauces — in 2009 to support the good work of nonprofit groups. Inspired by Newman’s Own, Best Boy donates all of its profits to charities.
The business started out selling three fudge sauces at the Joseph Decuis restaurant and Crestwoods Frame Shop and Gallery in Roanoke. It now sells six dessert sauces, four fudge sauces, two caramel sauces, three barbecue sauces, three hot sauces, three rubs and three mustards.
Whenever possible, the company uses ingredients produced in the region, such as Red Gold tomato products, in its sauces, mustards and rubs.
Its Best Boy Grained Deli Mustard took a gold medal in the whole seed/grainy mustard category of the National Mustard Museum’s 2014 World-Wide Mustard Competition.
“We’ve now given way over $10,000 in cash and at least that much in product,” Shive said. “ A lot of that has been due to Indiana Grown; they’ve got us in 40 Marsh stores. Kroger just had the three mustards and three barbecue sauces, and now they have everything.”
Best Boy products are in a couple of Fort Wayne Kroger stores now and will be in the rest of the chain’s stores in the city by the end of January, he said. It also will be in the local Fresh Thyme store by then.
Working with an Indianapolis distributor, Tiny Footprint, has helped with the expansion, and Best Boy products also are now in Lucky’s, a couple of Whole Foods stores and three Fresh Market stores.
And demonstrating the ability to supply Marsh and Kroger stores in Indiana well has help the company get products into Kroger stores in Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia.