During this past summer, I profiled how food hubs in Michigan continue to get national attention for their growth and entrepreneurship. See Urban Farming and Food Hubs in Michigan.
I was reading recently how Michigan State University (MSU) Center for Regional Food Systems has continued to research food hubs and their viability in local and regional markets. Food hubs are great in theory, but private business must be convinced that it can be a viable business model that does not rely on large public incentives and grants. The West Louisville FoodPort was unable to become shovel-ready when a major anchor pulled out of the project, sending the entire ROI out the window.
MSU defines a food hub “as businesses or organizations that actively manage the aggregation, distribution, and marketing of source-identified food products”. From a survey that MSU conducted, some interesting stats emerged:
- 95 percent of Michigan’s food hubs are experiencing an increase in demand of their products and services;
- Food hubs three largest reported customer types were restaurants, small grocery stores, and kindergarten through 12th-grade school food services;
- 74 % of food hubs reported that the majority of their customers were located within a 100-mile radius.
I find the second point the most interesting, since we typically think of local farmers markets supplying primarily to end-user customers. These food hubs are much larger in scale, being distribution centers for local farmers, food processors, and other agri-businesses. It would be interesting to know if the majority of food hubs also have a wholesale option to walk-in customers.
The infrastructure needed for a food hub is simple enough, a distribution centre with offices. Where it gets interesting is the possibility to grow a food hub into more than just a distribution network, which is what the West Louisville FoodPort attempted to do. A modular design that would allow other uses to grow off of an established food hub could be financially viable since it would phase over time. These uses could include a farmers market, education, cafes/restaurants, etc.
Where do food hubs go from here? I believe the concept is still in its infancy, but just how food halls have overtaken North America, the idea of food hubs are spreading quickly. It takes only a few major success stories to provide case studies/best practices for others to follow suit.