What is the role of retail chains in the institutionalization of local food systems? The most basic issue in the development of community based food systems is also the thorniest: how to sell local food through regular supermarkets without giving up the ideals of keeping the food system local. Beginning in 2009, a team of researchers in North Carolina has examined the potential for partnerships between local producers and grocery stores. The goals were (1) to document the way food producers and retailers defined local food, (2) to record how consumers related local food to notions of community, and (3) to identify how a community's cultural assets might reinforce economic cooperation among food enterprises. The research identified key differences between retailer and consumer conceptions of local food. Yet, through a sketch mapping task, the work also uncovered the ways that consumers saw stores as community connectors. Subsequent work has documented how actors within a conventional grocery chain work to align often divergent interests at stores, corporate headquarters, and distribution facilities in order to support local food. The paper concludes with an assessment of how a relational approach can address obstacles to local food sales in conventional supply chains.

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