‘Local food opinion leaders’ can help bridge gap between farmers, consumers

Buying and selling at an outdoor farmers' market

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“GAINESVILLE, Fla. — As consumers increasingly desire local food, opinion leaders can encourage others to eat healthier food and, in doing so, improve the local economy, according to new University of Florida Food and Agricultural Sciences research.

“Opinion leaders” are those who influence others via the respect they earn from those around them, said Alexa Lamm, associate director of the UF Center for Public Issues Education (PIE Center) and the leader of this research.

“Opinion leaders could be critical in bridging the gap between locally grown food and consumers. That’s important because local food sales totaled $6.1 million in 2012, up $1.3 million in four years, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But another study showed only 7.8 percent of U.S. farms targeted local consumers.

“In this study, faculty and students at the PIE Center recently surveyed 1,023 people across the U.S. to identify which ones were “local food opinion leaders” and assess their roles in the local food movement. To gauge an opinion leader in this area, researchers asked participants to respond to statements such as “during the past six months, how many people have you told about the safe handling of food?”

“Results showed 15 percent of those surveyed qualified as “opinion leaders.”

“Then researchers asked questions to find out how opinion leaders can influence their peers when it comes to local food. Results showed opinion leaders value eating healthy foods; most agreed high-quality foods provide benefits to overall personal health and indicated that healthy eating should be a priority. Nearly 80 percent said they bought locally grown foods from a grocery store.

“Opinion leaders influence others in face-to-face settings and online forums,” said Lamm, a UF/IFAS assistant professor of agricultural education and communication and an Extension specialist. “They can be leveraged to market local events such as farmers’ markets, trade shows and more.”

“Opinion leaders can be leveraged by food event organizers interested in spreading the word by emphasizing how their events or functions bring communities together and how local food can have a positive influence on the local economy,” said Lamm, who has co-authored a new series of Extension documents on this topic, which can be found at http://bit.ly/2bwXj3q. “They also stress that local food can be good for your health.”

“In another new Extension document, opinion leaders preferred buying and consuming local food. They also value their social relationships within their communities. Therefore, researchers reasoned, opinion leaders should encourage local farmers to socialize more with their customers. Farmers markets are great places to do just that, Lamm said. Like community gardens, they serve as ideal gathering places.

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Caption: As consumers increasingly desire local food, opinion leaders can encourage others to eat healthier food and, in doing so, improve the local economy, according to new University of Florida Food and Agricultural Sciences research.

Credit: UF/IFAS file.

By: Brad Buck, 352-294-3303, bradbuck@ufl.edu

Source: Alexa Lamm, 352-392-6545, alamm@ufl.edu