RESTAURANTS and chefs want to use local produce, but they are struggling to overcome barriers to doing so and are slightly disappointed with supply.
These are the key findings of the Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation Creating Local Food Connections survey which gauged the opinions and purchasing behaviours of 103 local restaurants, cafes and caterers.
“The majority of survey respondents – 92% – purchase local foods, with 74% saying they are committed to purchasing them and this is a significant message for local growers,” small business minister Jan Jarratt said.
Anita Smiley, owner of Maudy’s Restaurant in Maleny, took part in the survey and buys locally wherever possible.
“If it’s local and it’s good, I buy it,” she said.
“The price is comparable. You may pay a bit extra, but that’s offset by the freshness of the produce.
“Our lettuce supplier lives in the Conondale Valley, which is five minutes’ drive from the restaurant. What I get from him is picked at night and is totally fresh, it lasts for weeks.
“The pluses (of buying locally) outweigh the negatives. It’s fresher produce you can bring to your table and customers can taste it.”
However the survey found some barriers to supply included weather causing inconsistency of product, a lack of concerted promotional efforts to connect producers with commercial customers and distributors not doing enough to source products locally.
Thomas Corner Eatery owner David Rayner got at least 70% of his menu from within a 100km radius of his Noosa restaurant.
“I am the first one to stand up and scream and shout that I think the middle man is a bad man,” he said.
“The more our chefs can deal with local producers and growers and use farmers’ markets, then it will be much better for the local economy.
“Instead of pulling stuff from the Rocklea Market and interstate, we should all look at what’s available and work our menus around what produce is out there.”
Mr Rayner sources everything from strawberries, milk and cheese to citrus, avocados, seafood, poultry and duck eggs from suppliers in Noosa, Eumundi and Gympie.
“Without a doubt, the quality and cost stacks up. You can put some things on a plate that have been picked that morning, rather than something that’s been sitting in cold storage for a week. And because we deal directly with growers, the pricing is better as there are no transport costs.
“I would like to see chefs not be so lazy. Get out there and work the markets a lot more. Look at the region closely and instead of buying frozen produce, support local growers more.”
Eumundi Strawberries manager Kay Lewis said the farm had been supplying about 10 restaurants, B&Bs and patisseries directly for more than 13 years.
“We’d like to increase that,” she said.
“You can source cheaper strawberries anywhere, but if you want the quality, you’ve got to pay that little bit extra. We match our produce to our price.
“We like them to put it on their menu and a lot of people come in and say they’ve eaten somewhere and had our strawberries.”
Food is big business
According to ABS business counts from June 2009, there is an estimated 1145 food and beverage businesses on the Sunshine Coast and 119 in the Gympie region.
They are part of a much larger value chain, which includes primary production inputs, growers, producers, processors, transporters, wholesalers and retailers. According to the Queensland Government the food value chain is worth $18.7 billion, and supports 267,000 Queensland jobs.
The Sunshine Coast Regional Food Security Report (Shelton & Frieser, 2009) found our region did not produce sufficient quantities of food to meet local consumption needs, with the exception of milk and poultry.
Maudy’s won a $2000 advertising package in the Daily for taking part in the survey.
WHAT THE SURVEY SAID
92% purchase local foods;
74% had a commitment to buying locally
69% were satisfied with the supply of local produce
64% actively promote their use of local produce
Local distributors are the most popular source of produce, followed by growers direct
Key demand areas: wild rocket, Asian foods, central web directory of local producers, skilled labour, consistency of supply
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