VT Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross applauded Sodexo's move during a press conference on September 4. Photo by Abbie Nelson, NOFA-VT.Sodexo is undeniably a multi-national corporation, and the move is certainly based off of market pressure rather than pure goodwill. Rather than seeing that as cause for suspicion, however, it can be considered a victory: Vermont's support of and demand for local foods is strong enough to sway the purchasing decisions of a company that operates in 90 countries. And while many Vermont producers do not currently operate at the scale Sodexo requires, an increase in institutional purchasing such as that done by Sodexo represents an opportunity for growth in a state already hip-deep in farmers' markets and CSAs. New farmers or farmer cooperatives may be able to succeed in areas that otherwise would be saturated or, alternatively, may lack the population to support them through traditional direct marketing means. Additionally, institutional purchasing makes local food immediately available to more people, including those who may not be otherwise engaged in the local foods movement. It remains to be seen how much Sodexo will dedicate to the change -- according to VTDigger, no official benchmarks have been set, though the company has hired a local foods coordinator. We hope to see real increases in local purchasing, which could fuel both the local and regional food economy. Even an incremental change in Sodexo's Vermont purchasing habits will show up on 34,000 plates each day. That represents a great opportunity for farmers and consumers alike, as well as a potential model for other institutional buyers. Farmers interested in selling to institutional markets are encouraged to fill out the Wholesale and Institutional Markets Survey, and to contact NOFA-VT if you would like technical assistance in business planning, creating contracts, or production. (More information from VPR or VTDigger.)
Sodexo's local move
At NOFA-VT, we've been working with food service giant Sodexo for four years now during the Winter Conference at UVM, and we've seen their capacity for and commitment to using local foods improve each year. We're glad to see the change formalized in the company's new "Vermont First" campaign.