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Is local sourcing a fad in the produce industry or an emerging trend that heralds a new era in the way Americans approach fresh fruits and vegetables?

Houston-based FreshPoint Inc. is betting on the latter. Its just launched "Eat Florida Fresh" program and web site are the first in a series that will help introduce customers to the farmers who grow their food.

A subsidiary of the Sysco Corp., FreshPoint is one of the nation's larger distributors of fresh produce, with 31 locations nationwide catering primarily to the foodservice industry.

“We’ve always been involved with buying local product where and when we can, and we’re hoping our customers continue not only to want that, but demand that,” National Marketing Manager Laura Jones said from the company’s Pompano Beach, FL, office. “It’s important to our state and the other states we serve, to our agricultural community, and to the whole sustainable movement we’re promoting.”

The new campaign and web site (eatfloridafresh.com) feature almost all the company’s Florida growers, with profiles and photos from 40 Florida farmers, videos of some operations, recipes and availability charts for product grown in the state. Content will be updated regularly; for example, each month a different Florida farm will be featured in depth along with the other information on the web site. The on-line material is also available in booklet form, and FreshPoint plans to bolster the new campaign by establishing a social media presence to support it.

The launch of the new campaign was designed to coincide with the beginning of Florida’s fresh fruit and winter vegetable season. “We wanted to have it ready for our customers at the beginning of the local season in Florida,” Ms. Jones said. “It’s obviously a huge undertaking, so we want to make sure we do it right and get all the information out to the consumers in a clear and concise way. But everything we’ve developed for the Florida program we did template-style so we can have a fairly quick turnaround” as the program expands to other areas.

“Our new campaign will further illustrate our industry commitment and highlight a major focal point,” said Jon Lasko, FreshPoint Florida’s regional vice president. “We will be able to provide our customers with more options for locally grown produce than ever before, and our involvement and support of the local farmers will hopefully help build recognition of just how important our local agriculture is to our state, our customers and our future success.”

The Florida program is the first of several in the works, Ms. Jones said. All materials were developed in-house over a span of about two months. California FreshPoint providers will likely be the subject of the first round of the program’s expansion.

Ms. Jones said, “We looked at what we were doing as a corporation, and local produce right now is in such high demand from our customers and the consumers out there that we felt it was our duty to reach out and help them find out more information about the farms. We really wanted to tell a story and bring the farmers directly to our customers. It gives them a little bit more of a personal touch and shows what we’re doing to help our community on the local end. This certainly isn’t new to us — it was just a nice way for us to actually show the customer where and who we’re buying from. I know a lot of our competitors are working on local programs, but we’re really taking it to the next level and plan to continue year after year.”

She continued, “As a consumer, too, it’s important to me and my family to know, 'Where are these avocados coming from, where are these tomatoes grown?’ If I see something locally grown, I’m more inclined to pick that up. It’s about freshness. Consumers want quality and freshness, and knowing it’s literally picked out of the farm and in our facility in less than a day is an important message to get across.”