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Agric Hum Values (2009) 26:177191

DOI 10.1007/s10460-008-9165-6

Restaurants, chefs and local foods: insights drawn


from application of a diffusion of innovation framework
Shoshanah M. Inwood Jeff S. Sharp
Richard H. Moore Deborah H. Stinner

Accepted: 4 December 2007 / Published online: 11 September 2008


 Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Abstract Chefs have been recognized as potentially


important partners in efforts to promote local food systems.
Drawing on the diffusion of innovation framework we (a)
examine the characteristics of chefs and restaurants that
have adopted local foods; (b) identified local food attributes valued by restaurants; (c) examine how restaurants
function as opinion leaders promoting local foods; (d)
explored network linkages between culinary and production organizations; and (e) finally, we consider some of the
barriers to more widespread adoption of local foods in the
culinary community. Analyzing quantitative and qualitative data collected from interviews with individuals from
71 restaurants, we compare and contrast restaurants that
utilize relatively large amounts of locally-produced ingredients with restaurants using few, if any, local products.
Results reveal that chefs are most interested in intrinsic
food qualities, such as taste and freshness, and less interested in production standards. As opinion leaders, chefs
utilize signage, wait staff, and cooking classes to promote
local foods; however, the diffusion process across restaurants, and between restaurants and producers, is limited
by network associations. Structural barriers such as distri-

S. M. Inwood (&)  J. S. Sharp  R. H. Moore


Rural Sociology Program, Department of Human and
Community Resource Development, The Ohio State University,
Ag Admin Bldg Rm 208, 2120 Fyffe Road, Columbus,
OH 43210, USA
e-mail: Inwood.2@osu.edu
D. H. Stinner
Organic Food Farming Education and Research Program, Ohio
Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC), The
Ohio State University, 1680 Madison Ave, Wooster, OH 44691,
USA

bution problems and lack of convenience were identified


as limiting more widespread use of locally-grown foods.
We offer several implications of this research for further
work that seeks to engage chefs as opinion leaders who
are important to building greater support for local food
systems.
Keywords Chefs  Culinary  Diffusion of innovation 
Local food systems  Restaurants
Abbreviations
ACENET Appalachian Center for Economic Networks
NGOs
Non governmental organizations
NOP
U.S. National Organic Program

Introduction
Local foods have become increasingly popular in some
sectors of the culinary community (Burrows 2004; Marder
2006; Severson 2006), although the range of restaurants
utilizing them is still limited (Arnettf 2006; Bruni 2006). In
this research, we systematically examined restaurants using
locally grown foods to identify the characteristics of early
adopters of local food in the culinary community. Understanding how these innovative restaurants utilize and
advertise locally-produced ingredients should provide
useful insights for those seeking to expand their use. We
begin by describing some of the context and theoretical
background for this work, drawing on a diffusion of
innovation framework. We then list the interrelated
research questions that guided our qualitative and quantitative analysis of data collected from over 70 Ohio
restaurants.

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S. M. Inwood et al.

Local foods and the culinary community

The diffusion of innovations and local foods

Consuming food that is produced relatively proximate to a


diners geographic location may not seem like an innovative
act to the uninformed consumer, especially since doing so
was the norm until the twentieth century. However, changes
in the production, processing, transportation, and retailing of
food over the last century has created substantial territorial,
temporal and psychological space between producers and
consumers, effectively masking consumers from changes in
farming and the agricultural landscape (Pothukuchi and
Kaufman 1999). One result of this new food system structure
is what Berry (1996, p. 126) terms the industrial eater, an
individual who does not know eating is an agricultural act,
who no longer knows the connections between eating and the
landwho is therefore passive and uncritical.
Despite the emergence of the industrial eater, many are
seeking alternatives to the contemporary, industrial food
system. Some consumers are attracted to local foods by a
perception of poor flavor and quality of conventionally grown
foods; others may be motivated by concerns about wholesomeness and nutritional value, chemical inputs in food
production, and energy costs of transporting foods great
distances (Lappe 1990). These concerns have led to growing
demands to how, where, and by whom their food is produced
(Goodman and DuPuis 2002; Pollan 2006). Quality assurance
and value-added labels such as organic, local, or fair
trade have emerged in the marketplace, enabling consumers
to purchase foods consistent with their particular needs or
values (Nygard and Storstad 1998; Goldstein 2000; Murdoch
2000; Raynolds 2000; Winter 2003). These quality assurance
attributes have also been embraced by those in the culinary
community who constantly seek to identify new flavors or
trends in a quest to creatively meet customer demands.
In this study, we are particularly interested in learning
about the intersection of the local food movement and the
culinary community. While some aspects of the local food
system movement have begun to receive scholarly attention (DeLind and Fackler 1999; Ballenger et al. 2000;
Hinrichs 2000; Allen 2004), the role of chefs and restaurants in this movement is appreciated but not well
understood. One challenge for many agricultural and food
researchers which limits their capacity to study the culinary
community is the fact that many chefs received their
training in culinary institutes or as kitchen apprentices,
independent of traditional agricultural research institutions
such as land-grant university colleges of agriculture.
Despite the structural (and cultural) barriers between chefs
and traditional agricultural production participants, chefs
have substantial influence on food production and consumption through their presentation and marketing of food
as well as their interpersonal communication with diverse
culinary and consumer audiences.

The selective adoption of local foods by the culinary


community and our appreciation of their potential role in
facilitating greater use of locally produced foods throughout the food system lead us to employ the diffusion of
innovation literature as a framework to guide this research.
The diffusion of innovation model (Rogers 2003) has
become a classic theory for agricultural extension and
development agencies interested in facilitating the adoption
of new technologies and ideas (Padel 2001) and has been
widely utilized in other fields of technology and social
change (Harper and Leicht 2002). Simply put, diffusion of
an innovation is the process by which an innovation is
communicated and adopted over time. Rogers (2003)
describes an innovation as a new idea, practice or object
that generally offers a relative advantage to the adopter (in
social-prestige or economic terms). The pace at which an
innovation is adopted is also a function of other factors,
including the extent to which the technology is compatible
with existing values, is easily observed, can be tested, and
is not overly complex (Rogers 2003, p. 265).
Historically, consumption of local foods may not seem
like much of an innovation, but in todays global and
industrial food system such intentional consumption has
become novel. Diffusion studies have emphasized the
importance of an innovations relative advantage for
adoption to occur, with the perceived relative advantages
contingent on the particular type of innovation (Rogers
2003). Local foods have several attributes that attract the
attention of potential adopters. For example, among a
growing number of food system stakeholders, local foods
exhibit relative advantages to food produced by the dominant commodity system in terms of taste, freshness, variety,
and sometimes even price. These advantages might be
discovered by potential adopters through personal experience, observation, or experimentation; and incrementally
adopted to varying degrees by individual consumers, restaurants and institutional buyers. Given the substantial
media coverage of local foods in recent years, there is
evidence for an increasing potential of many would-be
adopters to discover this innovation (Cloud 2007).
A classic component of the diffusion of innovation
framework relevant to this research are the adopter categories characterizing particular classes of adopters and the
variable rates of behavioral change or adoption across time.
The classification includes innovators, early adopters,
the early majority, the late majority, and laggards
(Rogers 2003, p. 280). In the case of local foods, chefs
Alice Waters and Jeremiah Tower are widely recognized as
key innovators in the U.S. local food system movement,
catalyzing radical changes in the preparation and presentation of seasonal farm-fresh, locally-grown food products

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Restaurants, chefs and local foods

on their menus. These practices, originating at their San


Francisco restaurant Chez Panisse in 1972, are acknowledged as helping to institutionalize seasonality as a
definition of quality and creating a taste of place culinary trend (Guthman 2003; Starr et al. 2003; Trubek 2003).
In classic diffusion of innovation form, their innovation has
gradually influenced others in the culinary community and
has been modeled by early adopter chefs and restaurants
across the U.S.
Another defining feature of diffusion research is a focus
on the demographic characteristics of the various classes of
adopters and an assessment of the motivations for adopting
an innovation.1 For instance, compared to late adopters,
research has consistently shown that early adopters tend to
have more education, occupy a higher social status (measured by income, wealth and occupational prestige), have a
greater degree of upward social mobility, have larger and
more specialized operations, and are better accepted in their
community (Rogers 2003). Early adopters often express a
wide variety of motivations for adopting an innovation,
including both financial and non-financial reasons (Padel
2001). In the case of early adoption of local foods by restaurants, the status attributes that might be linked to local
food use are the age of the restaurant or its meal price (with
higher priced meals reflecting a higher status business).
Because food quality and flavor are central to the dining
experience, it is logical to expect quality markers (defined as
taste and production practices) to emerge as important motivators in the adoption process. It also must be noted that
despite these perceived superior attributes, other factors such
as the ease of accessing the product and price (a critical
financial consideration) may limit the extent to which there
is experimentation with or adoption of local foods.
Diffusion scholarship anticipates that early adopters
may also be well positioned to influence the adoption of an
innovation by others in the social system. Enhancing their
capacity to be opinion leaders is the fact that early
adopters are often well integrated into the larger social
system (Rogers 2003, p. 27). In diffusion of innovation
parlance these individuals act as role models within their
communities and have the ability to effect adoption rates
(Valente and Davis 1999). In the case of local foods and
the culinary sector, chefs and restaurants occupy an
important intersection in the food distribution system that
allows them to potentially generate greater interest in local
foods among their customers as well as the farmers and
distributors they source from. Chefs can also impact
other restaurants over the long-term through the education

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of kitchen staff (who may one day head their own restaurant or kitchen). To increase customer interest, restaurants
have at their disposal a number of communication tools
(such as signage, promotions and menus) that can be utilized to convey important information about food qualities
to customers (Pratten 2003). In addition, the opinion
leadership potential of chefs has increased with the growing celebration of chefs as public personalities through
mainstream television programming (e.g., The Food Network), and popular culinary magazines (e.g., Gourmet,
Saveour, Bon Appetite).
While media coverage (or the use of promotions and
menus) can broadly advertise an innovation, research has
also found that interpersonal communication between
opinion leaders and potential adopters is one of the most
important avenues for inducing change and furthering the
diffusion of an innovation (Rogers 2003). Network analysis
of the diffusion process has revealed that peer networks
(Coleman cited in Rogers 2003), homophilous and
heterophilous relationships, and weak ties (see
Granovetter 1973) are important conduits for the flow of
information and diffusion of an innovation across a wider
range of actors and social groups. In the case of local foods,
then, the dining experience and personal interactions with
restaurant kitchen and wait staff may be one important
avenue of generating awareness or reinforcing interest in
local foods among the consuming public.2 Likewise, personal interaction between the restaurant buyer and the
farmer or distributor is another pathway through which
awareness and appreciation might be generated.
While the innovation, the attributes of the adopters, and
communication flows may be important to the diffusion of an
innovation, there can be a number of obstacles to adoption. In
an important critique of diffusion of innovation theory,
Brown (1981) found that in some contexts, substantial
social-structural constraints of marketing and infrastructure
dependencies can retard or even prevent widespread adoption. This point has particular relevance to the continued
development of local food systems because the absence of a
local food infrastructure is widely noted as limiting the
availability and usage of local foods (Kloppenburg et al.
2000). In the case of restaurants, Starr et al.s (2003) research
found a high interest in purchasing locally grown foods, but
translating that interest into large scale purchases was seriously impeded by problems with distribution, reliability, and
consistency. To overcome these limitations, some chefs and
other local food system participants have formed creative
networks with local growers to develop products and

Understanding the demographics and motivations of early adopters


has historically been used to modify and create support services and
policy tailored towards further facilitating the adoption of innovations
among particular classes of potential adopters.

It is acknowledged that the potential also exists for negative dining


experiences, potentially arising from the fact that there may be greater
variability in the product quality of local and/or organic foods.

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S. M. Inwood et al.

establish adequate supply chains (ONeill and Whatmore


2000). For the less motivated adopter, though, such distribution networks, with high start-up and maintenance costs,
may be overwhelming and unattractive.
Research questions
In seeking to better understand the adoption and diffusion
of local foods within the culinary community and society
as a whole, five research questions rooted in the diffusion
of innovation framework guided our work. Our questions
focused on understanding those members of the culinary
community who are actively utilizing local foods and who
can reasonably be considered early adopters, since widespread usage of local foods in the culinary community
remains modest (Arnettf 2006; Bruni 2006). We were also
interested in the extent to which these early adopters are
integrated into the larger social system and positioned to
increase more widespread adoption of local foods. We
ultimately answer these questions by looking closely at a
set of early-adopting restaurants, as well as comparing
these early adopters with peer restaurants that were not
actively utilizing local foods.
The five research questions (and hypothesis):
(1)

(2)

(3)

What are the demographic characteristics of restaurants and chefs currently utilizing local foods? Based
on the earlier reviewed work, we anticipated that
compared to non-adopters, the early adopters would
generally be higher-status firms (e.g., with higher
menu prices and a longstanding presence in the
community).
What motivations do early adopting restaurants have
for purchasing and experimenting with local food?
We expected that local foods would be perceived as
having superior qualities compared to foods typically
available on the market (e.g., having superior taste or
freshness qualitiestwo core quality indicators in the
culinary sector). Additionally, we anticipated that
local food adopters would express a preference
regarding the production practices used to achieve
these superior attributes, with the practices themselves being viewed as quality attributes (e.g., such as
being organically grown or produced). Finally, we
anticipated that economic rationality factors, such as
price and convenience, may be impediments to
purchasing and experimentation with local foods,
despite possible perceptions of other superior
qualities.
How and to what extent do early-adopting restaurants
function as opinion leaders (and how do they
communicate information about local food with their
clientele)? We anticipated that restaurants serving

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(4)

(5)

local foods would utilize the modes of communication they naturally had at their disposal, such as
menus, signage and wait staff to educate consumers
and stimulate interest in further consumption of local
foods.
How do early-adopting restaurants network with their
peers and with producers from whom they might
obtain product? We expected that restaurants and
chefs would demonstrate active engagement in existing network structures (e.g., such as membership in
farm or culinary organizations promoting local foods)
in order to effectively access information or a supply
of local food.
To what extent are structural conditions, such as
availability and access to product, limiting factors in
more widespread adoption of local foods by restaurants? Distribution infrastructure is a noted problem
in developing local food systems in general (Starr
et al. 2003) and, consistent with the observations of
Brown (1981), we anticipated that restaurants and
chefs (both the early adopters and non-adopters alike)
would identify inadequacy of distribution infrastructure as a critical obstacle to effective utilization of
local foods.

Methods
We considered the five research questions using a research
design that was both inductive (extensive field research)
and deductive (closed-ended survey). A strength of this
approach is that we were able to look beyond, and sometimes more deeply at, our quantitative findings and engage
in a process of qualitative induction to confirm our quantitative findings or to help identify exceptions that might
guide us toward more comprehensive explanations of the
processes, opportunities and constraints to the use or
adoption of local foods (Erzberger and Kelle 2003). This
mixed-methods approach allowed for data triangulation,
increasing our confidence in the patterns we observed
while simultaneously increasing our ability to provide a
rich description of the adoption and diffusion processes.
When possible, we report statistical differences that confirm (or disconfirm) our expectations, but also to elaborate
the qualitative data from representative cases to further
refine our understanding of how chefs and restaurants do or
do not conform to our expectations.
Ohio and local food system development
The State of Ohio is an interesting laboratory for the study
of local food systems because it has substantial potential

Restaurants, chefs and local foods

for alternative food system development. For example,


there are several large urban centers in the state which are
in close proximity to productive agricultural land. However, like most of the United States, Ohios local food
system infrastructure (related to production, distribution,
and retail) is limited. Several statewide non governmental
organizations (NGOs) and government agencies actively
support and nurture local food system development,
working both independently and cooperatively to create
brochures; labeling programs; websites; organize conferences and workshops to promote the use of local foods; and
use media to educate consumers, producers, and even chefs
on the value of local foods. The most successful initiatives
have occurred at the local and regional levels, including
efforts by the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks
(ACENET), the Northwest Toledo Foodshed, The Northeast Ohio Food Shed, HomeGrown in Knox County, and
the Central Ohio Chef-Grower Network (Local Matters).
Data collection
The data were collected as part of an Ohio Department of
Agriculture-Ohio Proud Program sponsored assessment of
the current use and potential for organic and local food
distribution in restaurant and retail food markets. The Ohio
Proud Program was established in 1993 and seeks to
identify and promote food and agricultural products that
are at least 50% grown, raised or processed in Ohio (Ohio
Proud 2000). Data were collected in person and over
the phone during the winter of 2003 with 100 members of
the Ohio culinary and food-retail community. The lead
author conducted all of the interviews, utilizing a parallel
or simultaneous mixed method design (Teddlie and
Tashakkori 2003) with an open-ended interview guide in
conjunction with a closed ended questionnaire.3 Development of the interview guide and questionnaire content was
guided by our theoretical perspective and was revised with
input from two focus groups attended by chefs, restaurant
owners, and food retailers. The interview guide explored
four themes: (1) attitudes towards local and organic foods,
(2) purchasing and advertising behavior, (3) barriers and
opportunities for purchasing, and (4) organizational affiliations. Qualitative data was coded into themes using Berg
(2004) and Lofland and Lofland (1995) methodologies of
data reduction, summarizing and coding. Quantitative data
were analyzed using SPSS. The lead author conducted all
the interviews, but all authors were involved in an iterative
process of interpreting the open and closed-ended material.
In addition, some interviewees, as well as others in the

The interview guide and closed-ended questionnaire are available


from the lead author by request.

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culinary community, were consulted throughout the process of data interpretation to assess the accuracy of the
teams interpretation of the data.
Interviewees were selected from five Ohio cities from
four distinct regions: Akron (northeast); Cleveland
(northeast); Columbus (central); Cincinnati (southwest)
and Toledo (northwest). The study intentionally focused on
cities in large metropolitan areas because metro-area residents tend to spend more money on away-from-home foods
than do nonmetropolitan households (ERS 2002; Restaurant Association 2004a, b). Within each metro-region, 20
restaurants and food retail outlets were studied. Restaurants
ranged from inexpensive mom and pop diners to highend gourmet restaurants. Interviews were conducted with
either the chef or restaurant owner. A snowball sampling
method described by Lofland and Lofland (1995) was used
to ensure that the sample included restaurants with different levels of exposure to local and organic foods.
Restaurants and food retail outlets were identified by
contacting food editors from each citys major newspaper,
free city newspapers, on-line restaurant reviews, guide
books, and word of mouth. The choice of interview subjects was intentionally biased toward restaurants and chefs
perceived as culinary leaders due to their ability to influence the diffusion of a particular food trend (Valente and
Davis 1999; Harper and Leicht 2002). Each outlet identified can be characterized as respected and well-regarded in
their communities. Some were actively purchasing local
foods year round, some were making use of local foods
only during local peak harvest months, and some were not
actively purchasing any local foods at the time of the study
(and may or may not adopt them in the future).
Two percent of the initially-identified restaurants and
retail stores declined to participate. Ultimately, face-to-face
interviews were conducted at 85 establishments with an
individual in charge of ordering foodgenerally the
chef, manager, or owner. Due to time limitations, phone
interviews were conducted with 15 individuals to accommodate their schedules. Seventy-one interviews were
conducted with restaurants and 29 with retail food outlet
representatives (such as grocery stores or food co-ops). In
this paper, we focus only on data from restaurants. Three
biases of our selection methodology must be noted. First,
many interviews were with representatives of well-established and long-lived restaurantsin an industry not
known for longevity (Balazs 2002) (Table 1). Second,
almost all of the interviews were conducted with individuals working at locally-based firms, not national restaurant
chains. This bias may have arisen from following the lead
of the nominators in the snowball sample; nominations
overall failed to identify national chain restaurants as local
leaders. Finally, the sample had a disproportionately high
number of restaurants that might be characterized as

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182
Table 1 Restaurant
demographics

S. M. Inwood et al.

Category

No to low

Medium

High

Proportion of local food purchased


(produce, meat and dairy inventory)

1% or less

Between 1%
and 8.25%

8.25% or more

24

25

22

14.6

13.8

14.4

Chef or independent owner (%)

66.7

84.0

77.3

Partnership or corporation (%)

33.3

16.0

22.7

Inexpensive (less than $8)

20.8

24.0

13.6

Moderate (between $8 and $15)

41.7

56.0

40.9

Expensive (more than $15)

37.5

20.0

45.5

Demographic
Average age of restaurant (years)
Owner

Cost (in percent)

expensive, likely due to our seeking out leading establishments in their respective communities.
Analytical strategy
An important feature of this analysis is our characterization
of restaurants according to the amount of locally-produced
food they utilize. Interviewees were asked to state the
approximate percentage of locally-grown produce, meat
and dairy inventory for each of the four seasons. Responses
for a particular commodity type ranged from none to 100%
sourced locally in a given season (Note: one restaurant
actually purchased local dairy products all year, however,
the use of local foods generally varied according to seasonal availability). Overall, restaurant purchases ranged
from buying no locally-sourced foods to an average of 78%
of all produce, meat, and dairy products being locally
sourced over the course of the year.
The pattern of local food usage by this particular sample
of restaurants suggests the existence of three distinctive
sets of local food users. The groups include No to Low,
Medium and High volume users of local food. The set
characterized as No to Low volume users reported that 1%
or less of their total inventory consisted of locally produced
foods (n = 24, of which 14 reported no local food purchases whatsoever, while ten reported very modest usage
of local produce during peak harvest seasons). Due to the
extremely low levels of local food purchasing occurring in
the No to Low cluster, we treated this category as our nonadopter comparison group. The Medium and High volume
users therefore represent some degree of local food adoption. Medium users reported that between 1% and 8.25% of
their total inventory consisted of local foods (n = 25).
Compared to the No to Low level users, Medium users
more actively utilized local produce when in season, and to
a modest extent purchased local dairy and meat products.
High users reported more than 8.25% of total inventory as

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comprised of local foods (n = 22). We denote three types


of High volume users: (1) those who aggressively utilized
local produce; (2) those who accessed moderate amounts of
a wider range of products, with varying combinations of
produce, meat and dairy products, and; (3) a small subset
who sourced a substantial amount of produce, dairy, and
meats locally across all seasons. While the exact break
points between groups were ultimately selected to distinguish restaurants into relatively similar sized groupings,
there was discernable consistency of usage patterns within
groups (except within the High group which was consistent
in terms of purchasing relatively large quantities of local
food but in qualitatively different ways).
Our logic in classifying this sample of restaurants into a
High, Medium, and No to Low-volume groups also
acknowledges that adoption of an innovation can be a
staged process with varying degrees of experimentation
before full-fledged adoption. In our case, the High-volume
users have made a commitment to local foods and are
making seasonal or year round purchases commensurate
with that commitment. The Medium volume users, both in
terms of volume and pattern of purchasing, have made a
more modest commitment and may be experimenting to the
extent it is convenient to do so, while the No to Low
volume users were either outright not purchasing or are
barely experimenting with local foods. Such a pattern is
consistent with the work of other alternative food system
researchers, such as Padel (2001) who observed that
adoption of organic farming practices can take place over a
period of several years with varying levels of experimentation occurring at different scales. Because adoption of
local food is not very widespread, we view the High volume users as early adopters and the Medium volume users
as more tepid adopters at the time of the study.
The analysis is organized around the five previously
noted research questions. We integrate our discussion of the
quantitative and qualitative data, generally reporting the

Restaurants, chefs and local foods

qualitative findings to add insight and depth to the quantitative findings and comparisons. To the extent to which the
quantitative data allows, we also report statistical tests that
confirmed whether an expected relationship existed or not.
Defining local and organic
A note about our use of the terms local and organic is
warranted because there can be ambiguity and argument
regarding the meanings of both terms (Allen and Kovach
2000). To ensure consistency and comparability of data,
uniform definitions of local and organic were provided and
maintained throughout each interview. Local was defined as
any produce, dairy or meat products grown or raised in the
State of Ohio. The definition of local was expanded to
include regions of neighboring states for cities with metropolitan areas spanning multiple states, e.g., Cincinnati is
linked to areas in Kentucky, and Indiana and Toledo is closely linked to parts of southeastern Michigan. Participants
were asked to respond to questions within these geographic
parameters. Organic was defined as items sourced from
farms certified under the U.S. National Organic Program
(NOP) (NOP 2003).

Results and discussion


Demographic characteristics of early adopters
Our first questions focused on basic restaurant demographics. In large part, the most active adopters of local foods
among these prominent Ohio restaurants did not differ substantially from their peers. Table 1 displays the demographic
characteristics of the restaurants interviewed, organized
according to the proportion of food served from local sources. Within each category of restaurant, there was substantial
longevity with a mean age of around 14 years. Therefore, we
did not find support for our hypothesis that early adopters
would have a longer-standing presence in their community
compared to non-adopters. In other words, all interviewees
were generally affiliated with restaurants in tune with customer demand, tastes and preferences; therefore able to
reflect their customers perceptions about and interest in
local foods.4 The large proportion of independent and chefowned restaurants across all categories is likely a function of
the sampling methodology, since national chain restaurants
were not included in our list of restaurants to investigate.
The price of a typical entree on the menu was used to
categorize the restaurants as inexpensive (less then $8),
4

A restaurant may be considered established anywhere from 2 to


3 years of age, with longevity demonstrating the ability to operate
profitability and satisfy customers (Restaurant Association 2003).

183

moderate (between $8 and $15) and expensive (greater


then $15). While statistically significant differences were
not identified among local food use and entree price, the
pattern suggests there may be some association between
the expensiveness of a restaurant (in terms of average
entree price) and use of local food. The No to Low purchasers of local foods were found in all three categories,
with slightly more falling into the moderate category.
Medium-level purchasers tended to predominate in the
moderately-priced categories. A higher proportion of Highvolume users fell into the moderate and expensively-priced
category. Thus support for our hypothesis that early
adopters would generally exhibit higher status in terms of
having more expensively-priced menus was substantiated.
The fact that more expensively-priced restaurants appear to
purchase larger quantities of local food is in line with the
diffusion scholarship expectation that the superior economic resources afforded to these firms, obtained through
higher menu prices, may allow them more flexibility to
experiment with innovations.
Motivations for purchasing
During both the structured and unstructured portions of the
interviews, chefs or restaurant representatives were asked to
describe some of the food attributes they most valued when
making purchasing decisions. Of particular interest was the
importance of taste, farm production practices (such as
organic), convenience, and price, all anticipated as possible
factors influencing the adoption of local foods. Informants
were asked to rate the importance of taste, convenience, and
price, on a 1 to 5 Likert scale, where 1 reflected least
importance and 5 indicated most importance (Table 2).
Using the same Likert scale, interviewees were also asked to
rate how important the labels organic and local were to
their customers. Comparisons between groups, along with
the appropriate test statistic (F statistic associated with
analysis of variance (ANOVA) or a chi-square statistic
associated with a cross-tabulation), statistical significance
levels, and the pattern of difference among groups determined by post hoc tests (least significant difference)
associated with the ANOVA, are reported in Table 2.
Taste
Given the significance of the sensory experience in the
culinary community, our natural assumption was that taste
is a principal characteristic attracting restaurant decision
makers to feature specific foods. Our quantitative data
revealed that all of the restaurants reported taste as being
an important factor in their purchasing decisions (Table 2).
In reference to the concept of local, our open-ended queries
found that chefs and restaurants, regardless of their usage

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S. M. Inwood et al.

Table 2 Customer influences and attitudes toward local and organic foods by level of local foods purchased using a one way ANOVA test
Category

F-test or
Pearson v2

Post hoc tests

No to Low

Medium

High

Importance of taste

4.6 (1.0)

4.9 (0.3)

4.7 (0.9)

0.9

Importance of convenience

4.5 (0.8)

3.7 (1.1)

3.5 (1.2)

6.7*

NL [ M, H

Importance of price

4.3 (0.8)

3.5 (1.3)

3.0 (1.2)

7.6*

NL [ M, H

32.0

68.2

18.2**

2.1 (1.1)
3.2 (1.3)

2.9 (1.1)
4.0 (0.8)

4.7*
14.8*

Factors related to purchasing decisions

Willing to pay more for local foods (% yes)

8.3

Perception of market demand


Perception of importance the label organic has to the customer
Perception of importance the label local has to the customer

1.9 (1.4)
2.1 (1.5)

NL, M \ H
NL \ M \ H

Note: Standard deviations in parentheses. NL refers to No to Low, M refers to Medium and H refers to High. For Factors related to
purchasing decisions and Perception of market demand, respondents rated the attributes on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 was least
important and 5 was most important
* F-test significant at the .05 level
** Chi-square significant at .05 level

of local, reported a belief that local produce tasted superior


to nonlocal produce. Interestingly, many of those interviewed were hesitant to blankly state all local food
tasted better. They were cognizant that quality was contingent on season, climatic conditions and individual
growing styles. But among those preferring local foods,
there was a perception that food tastes better when its
hand crafted. The superior taste quality of local foods
became a noted economic benefit as one chef commented,
When we serve local food we dont have a problem with
food coming back to the kitchen and being thrown away
its a tribute to the food.
Convenience and price
In terms of both convenience and price, significant differences were reported between the sets of restaurants (F-test
significant at .05 level). Convenience was rated as a less
important consideration for High volume users (mean of
3.5) and Medium volume users (mean of 3.7) but relatively
high for No to Low users (mean of 4.5). In regard to price,
High and Medium volume users indicated this was a
modest factor (means of 3.0 and 3.5, respectively) in their
purchasing decisions, while the No to Low users rated this
factor as more important (mean of 4.3). Consistent with
this finding, there were also significant differences between
the groups in their willingness to pay for local foods
(Table 2). Over two-thirds of High volume users indicated
they were willing to pay more for local foods compared to
only 32% of Medium and only 8% of No to Low volume
users. It appears the No to Low volume users concerns
with convenience and price may be serious factors limiting
their adoption of and experimentation with local foods,
despite their acknowledgement of taste as an important
criterion and their consistent acknowledgement that local

123

foods can have superior taste qualities. For High volume


users, price and convenience were not nearly as important.
Production standards
Another attribute we expected to hear about was restaurants purchasing local food for specific production and
management practices, particularly organic production
techniques. Our qualitative findings in this regard were
mixed. In the interviews, production and farm management
practices were generally not emphasized as an important
component of food quality, regardless of level of local food
usage. Restaurants and retailers were generally aware of
variations in production techniques, often stating, I am
concerned about fertilizers and chemicals, but few were
actively engaged or well versed in contemporary production debates. None of the restaurants mentioned food miles
or concerns for labor conditions (migrant or non-migrant)
as motivations for purchasing local food from farmers.
Restaurants were aware of the organic attribute but were
generally not aware of associated regulations and certification programs. Chefs stated they were purchasing
locally-grown organic foods, particularly produce, but did
not know if it was certified organic. Few restaurants
required a certification label especially when purchasing
direct from local farmers, stating, I trust the farmer I have
a relationship with. Some chefs said they wanted food
raised organically without a lot of pesticides and fertilizers
but at the same time they understood that chemicals may be
necessary. A typical chef stated:
I want the healthiest, safest food possible without a
lot of chemicals or fertilizers. But, I know organic
isnt always the best way to go. Just the way I know
the kitchen, I trust the farmer to know whats best for
their land.

Restaurants, chefs and local foods

This theme of low interest in the specifics of production


and greater emphasis on farmer trust and quality was
echoed by others as well. Another restaurant indicated:
Its more than the food being organic, its about who
made it. We buy from a regional farm that has quality
associated with it.
This tepid interest in organic may also be a function of
the knowledge and interest of the restaurant consumer, as
several restaurants indicated it was easier to communicate
the advantages of local (regardless of whether it was
organic or not) based on its superior taste and quality due to
it being fresh and in season. High volume users reported a
perception that local was of interest to their customers
(mean of 4.0), compared to the perception of more moderate interest among customers of Medium (mean of 3.2)
and No to Low local food use (mean of 2.1) (Table 2). But
in the case of the organic attribute, comparatively, it was
rated the highest among customers of the High volume
users (2.9), but substantively the organic attribute was
generally rated as modest to low interest to customers
among all three classifications of establishments (Table 2).
Overall, our findings regarding the attributes of local
foods valued by adopters are mixed in comparison to our
expectations. As expected the food attributes most strongly
valued by restaurants are freshness and taste, and our
qualitative findings reinforce this. Our empirical data also
reveal that price and convenience are important discriminating attributes of local food usage and may potentially
limit experimentation for certain restaurants, with No to
Low volume users rating these factors as more important
compared to High volume users who place less importance
on these qualities.
Contrary to our expectations, we were surprised by how
few interviewees mentioned ideas regarding food miles
(Pirog 2004) or social justice (Allen 2004), and by how
little concern there was for specific production practices
used for growing local foods. The number of interviewees
indicating a strong level of trust in farmers and deference to
their judgment merits more systematic examination.
Finally, it is interesting to note that the High volume users
of local foods perceived that local was important to their
customers, but organic was not rated highly by any set of
local food users.
Restaurant personnel as opinion leaders
Restaurant personnel may function as opinion leaders,
capable of transmitting new information to diners about
food and possibly influencing their tastes and preferences.
To determine the role of restaurant professionals and chefs
as opinion leaders in the diffusion of awareness and interest
in local foods, we assessed the extent to which restaurants
purposefully engaged in activities to educate, inform, and

185

draw customer attention to local foods. Of the High volume


local food users, nearly 73% indicated they sought to
educate customers about local foods, in comparison to only
half the Medium volume users and only 8% (2 of 24) of No
to Low volume users. In practice, we expected that restaurants utilizing local foods would utilize signage, wait
staff, or other means of awareness building to communicate
the merits of local foods to customers.
Signage
Signage can be an important non-verbal educational tool to
instigate behavioral action or social change. Restaurants in
particular use signage for point of purchase promotions to
encourage and guide their clientele to specific menu items
(Albright et al. 1990; Panitz 2000). Menus are an obvious
way to employ signage. We found High volume users of
local foods were highly likely to display local foods on
their menus or on specials boards (82% of High volume
users reported doing so), and over half the Medium volume
users did as well. While menus were commonly used by
High volume users, some interviewees were reluctant or
cautious when talking about this communication tool. One
chef stated: We dont want to overload the customer with
too much information and push things on them. Some of
them dont want to know. Other chefs echoed this sentiment, suggesting that their customers were more concerned
about cost and taste quality then the source of ingredients
stating, We dont highlight food as organic. A small
group of people are interested and when they ask we tell
them. The majority of people are looking at price first.
Another limitation to the use of menus to communicate that
some foods or ingredients were local had to do with supply
consistency. Restaurants purchasing local produce directly
from farmers were wary of advertising these ingredients on
pre-printed, static menus for fear of being unable to deliver
the promised product; one chef declared, We dont have
the guaranteed flow of ingredients so we dont put these
things on the menu. If we did and then needed to substitute
that would be considered false advertising. So we just
feature these items in specials.
To work around the potential problem of uneven supply,
a more flexible communication approach identified by
several interviewees was to utilize temporary specials flyers
or erasable sign boards. It was noted that such approaches
were appealing to regular customers who might be attracted
to unique and new items. Further, this marketing strategy
had the advantage of being used as an advertising tool in
windows or on the sidewalk to entice passersbys into the
restaurant. Another benefit of highlighting local foods as
specials was the suggestion (perhaps based in fact) that
particular menu items were in short supply, potentially
creating cachet to attract even more diner interest.

123

186

While signage is an overt strategy to promote local


foods and influence public opinion of them, the degree to
which specials and black-board items transfer into sustained interest among patrons is not answerable by this
study, so further exploration of this matter is warranted.
The challenge of sustaining consumer interest in local
foods is illustrated by the experience of one Cincinnati
restaurant that strongly promotes local foods during its
annual all-Ohio week with a special menu featuring Ohio
foods and farmers. While the week long event is quite
successful, sustaining the popularity of the items made with
local foods beyond the promotional week has not been. The
chef explained:
During that week we sold out of the all-Ohio meals
every night. It was so popular we decided to transfer
some of those dishes to our regular menu. Funny
thing was, when we did that the meals wouldnt
sell. We cant figure it out.
Communicating via the wait staff
Another communication strategy and avenue to influence
public opinion is via the wait staff, who can play an
important role in educating diners about local foods and
encouraging their consumption. Waiters and waitresses
play an integral role in customer satisfaction (Pratten 2003)
and promoting a meal or a product is contingent on the
ability of staff to articulate the characteristics of a food
item in order to assist customers to make an informed

S. M. Inwood et al.

choice. Therefore we considered how a chefs or restaurants dedication to local foods was communicated to the
wait staff and, in turn, transmitted to the diner. In 19 of the
22 restaurants characterized as High volume users of local
foods, employees were intentionally educated about the
merits of the local food items on the menu (Table 3); such
educational efforts were more modest among the Medium
volume users and rare among the No to Low volume users.
The philosophy among some restaurants is that the better
educated and excited a staff member is about a product, the
better able they are to transfer enthusiasm and information
to the potential customer, thereby resulting in increased
sales and increased awareness of local foods. One chef
claimed: I increased sales of goat cheese by 80% once my
staff started eating it and promoting it to the customer. In
the interviews, one observed pattern was that expensive
restaurants that purchased directly from farmers were the
most likely to report spending time educating their staff on
the ingredients and menu items. One chef explained,
Every night we go over the menu and break down the
ingredients. They taste the food so they can communicate
to the customer what is available.
The training of kitchen staff, wait staff, managers and
floor staff in some restaurants can be intensive. Some
restaurants reporting High usage of local foods even
described having staff visit farms. Six of the chefs interviewed had scheduled employee farm field trips intended to
help employees develop an enhanced understanding of the
food they handled and to cultivate a personal relationship
with the farmer. However, many interviewees, including

Table 3 Percent diffusion through opinion leadership, networks and structural barriers
Category
Communication tools
Display local foods on the menu

No to low

Medium

High

Pearson v2

52.0

81.8

32.3*

Educate employees about local foods

16.7

40.0

86.4

23.1*

Educate customers about local foods

8.3

48.0

72.7

20.0*

Networks-membership organizations
Ohio proud

NA

Innovative farmers of Ohio

NA

American culinary federation

8.3

16.0

40.9

7.9*

Chefs collaborative

28.0

13.6

7.9*

54.2

60.0

59.1

0.2

12.5

24.0

22.7

1.2

16.0

15.0

4.2

Interest in buying direct from farmers

20.8

44.0

45.5

3.9

Interest in buying from an Ohio regional food distributor

66.7

76.0

Interest in buying from a Midwestern food distributor


Chef shops at the farmers market

8.3
25.0

8.0
56.0

Chamber of commerce
Structural variables
Is there an adequate supply of local foods (% yes)
Pick up local foods at the farm

* Statistically significant difference based on a chi-square test with p \ .05

123

100
4.5
72.7

8.5*
0.3
10.9*

Restaurants, chefs and local foods

those extensively utilizing local foods, lamented they were


unable to provide their employees with the desired level of
training and background due to time constraints.
Despite efforts to educate diners about the merits of local
food, many of those interviewed still felt constrained by
customers preexisting expectations and awareness. The
belief that customers truly do not appreciate good food or
understand the food system seemed to reverberate through
the majority of interviews and many expressed remorse
about this. Some chefs and restaurant owners felt the
majority of customers did not value local and organic foods
thus limiting their ability to purchase and cook these foods,
despite many chefs desire to offer locally-produced
ingredients. Although higher volume users were more likely
to report that their customers requested local foods, many
intervieweesregardless of level of local food purchases
indicated that interest in local foods required an educated
public ready to appreciate the taste and flavor of farm-fresh,
unprocessed foods. One strategy reported by some chefs for
overcoming diner preferences for mass-market, convenience style foods was to offer cooking classes featuring
whole ingredients. One Columbus area chef stated:
We do cooking classes. Promotion is a key to education. Customers come to this kind of a food from a
taste perspective; they will only choose these foods
with positive reinforcement. If they have a good
experience at the restaurant or at the class, then
theyll go out and buy the food for themselves.
From our examination of the role of restaurants and
chefs as opinion leaders facilitating the diffusion of local
foods, a number of strategies were identified as actively
used among the High volume adopters, including promotional signage and education of employees and diners. The
active use of these communication methods was anticipated, although it is noteworthy that our qualitative results
also revealed important limitations or challenges associated
with efforts to educate diners about local foods. Thus even
as these opinion leaders actively sought to generate greater
and more consistent interest among diners, their efforts
were seemingly tempered by inconsistent supply, the time
available to train wait staff, and the perception of diner
ambivalence regarding the merits of local foods.
Diffusion networks
Valente and Davis (1999) argue that networks play a crucial
role in the diffusion of innovations, and we were particularly interested in identifying formal linkages of chefs and
their restaurants to various organizations through which
information and resources regarding local foods may flow.
In Ohio, Innovative Farmers of Ohio and Ohio Proud are
two significant statewide organizations with the capacity to

187

facilitate information dissemination and the development of


purchasing opportunities. We expected a large proportion of
High volume local food users to be members of one or both
organizations, but this was not the case. No restaurant
professional that we interviewed was a member of either of
these organizations at the time of the study (Table 3). A
possible byproduct of the absence of formal organizational
networks between chefs and growers was manifested in the
comments of one chef who indicated Id love to buy local
produce, I never knew it was an option to purchase from
local growers, no one ever markets to me.
In terms of networks among restaurants, we found only a
modest number of restaurants in either the High (13.6%) or
Medium (28.0%) volume user category were members of
Chefs Collaborative, the leading, national culinary organization of chefs interested in local foods. None of the No to
Low volume users were members of Chefs Collaborative.
High volume users (40.9%) were more likely (p \ .05) to
be members of the American Culinary Federation (ACF)
followed by Medium level users (16.0%) and No to Low
volume users (8.3%) (Table 3). An explanation for this
pattern may be that restaurants utilizing larger volumes of
local food are more often run by formally-trained chefs who
are more likely to associate with the ACF.
An interesting site of potential networking between
chefs and members of the agricultural community uncovered by these interviews may be the local Chamber of
Commerce (a community oriented business organization).
A majority of restaurants, regardless of the amount of local
foods utilized, reported being members of Chambers
(Table 3). While in the most urban settings the linkage of
the chamber with the agricultural community might be
limited, in more rural and exurban settings, existing general
business organizations such as the Chamber may be useful
for bridging grower and restaurant networks.
While we expected a higher number of formal organizational linkages between restaurants and farm-oriented
organizations, as well as links between chefs and the
national Chefs Collaborative organization, the open-ended
portion of the interview revealed a stronger preference
among many chefs to meet local farmers rather than join a
statewide membership organization. The fact that membership was relatively high in local Chambers and the
American Culinary Federation (which had a local chapter
in each of the five metro areas visited for this research)
further suggests an opportunity for enhancing engagement
in local, rather than state-wide or national, organizational
structures among this sample of chefs in general; and High
volume local food users, specifically. From a practical
standpoint, this finding suggests that a potentially effective
route for organizational development related to local foods
may be to focus on local organizational structures. Further
investigation of this matter is warranted, but previous

123

188

diffusion studies have revealed that locally-directed communication networks and diffusion processes can be
effective, especially when the innovation does not require
sophisticated technical expertise for successful adoption
(Rogers 2003).
Barriers to adoption
Our final research question pertained to the extent to which
structural issues (such as access and availability) limited
adoption of local foods. Whereas Rogers focuses closely on
characteristics of adopters and the importance of access to
information, Brown (1981) claims that the process of diffusion is most affected by access to (a) means of
production, (b) public goods, (c) information, (d) capital,
(e) skills, (f) education, and (g) public infrastructure. In
particular Browns conflict theory perspective emphasizes
that access is limited by infrastructure. Innovations that are
infrastructure constrained will be adopted only by those
individuals with access to the infrastructure. In an earlier
section, the significance of price and convenience of
accessing the product was noted as an issue, particularly
among No to Low and Medium users of local foods. We
probed chefs and restaurant owners further about such
issues of availability, infrastructure and access, anticipating
these issues would be substantial barriers to greater use of
local foods.

S. M. Inwood et al.

distributors, even if another distributor offered lower prices. If a regional distributor of local foods should emerge
and gain the trust of restaurant buyers, interviewees indicated this distributor need not provide all possible products,
but would need to carry a comprehensive variety of choices
or specialize in a few select premium products. Interestingly, buying from a Midwestern food distributor was of
very low interest among all three sets of restaurants, with
the perception that a larger-scale distributors offerings
would be too generic. Thus it appeared that the preference
among restaurants for sourcing their local foods was to
have a relationship with one or a small number of reliable
local distributors versus multiple farmers or a non-local,
large-scale distributor.
While issues of distribution and access were noted by
many, we did find a small group of interviewees, particularly at the higher end restaurants, who were dedicated to
local and organic foods and who considered distribution an
important issue but not a paralyzing one:
Farmers have more flexibility than distributors and
tend to treat me better because of those relationships.
Farmers give me an anticipated harvest date, so I can
create a menu. Convenience means nothing to me
because this way of ordering is the least convenient.
This subset of interviewees also expressed greater
willingness to pay higher prices for local foods.
Accessing local foods through direct marketing

Distribution
Similar to findings from a study of restaurants in Colorado
(Starr et al. 2003), restaurants in Ohio were motivated to
purchase local foods but, regardless of the volume of their
local food purchases, generally reported there was an
inadequate supply (Table 3). Further, many indicated that
ease of access to that supply was critical to the amount of
locally-produced foods they were able to utilize. We asked
chefs and restaurant representatives about their level of
interest in purchasing from a variety of sources, regardless
of the current level of their local food purchases, and less
then 50% reported an interest in buying directly from
farmers. The preference among many of those interviewed
was to purchase local foods from a regional distributor
(Table 3). One chef summarized the basis for this preference explaining, I like knowing the individual farmers but
the less ordering I have to do the better. Another reason
for the distributor preference is that many restaurants have
valued personal relationships with their distributors. All
restaurants employed multiple distributors, utilizing each
for specific products, and many reported longstanding
relationships with reliable distributors who delivered a
quality product. Thus many were hesitant to switch

123

Until a more formal local foods distribution infrastructure


is created, one method of accessing local foods by some
High volume users is to frequent farmers markets and
engage in direct purchases from farmers. Very few restaurants indicated having ever picked up food products
from the farm or expressed an interest in doing so
(Table 3). We did find, though, that 73% of High volume
restaurants reported that their chef(s) patronized farmers
markets or roadside stands, with much smaller percentages
of Medium and No to Low volume users doing so. Several
chefs reported enjoying visiting the farmers markets
because it allowed them to meet farmers and become
acquainted with regional foods. However, there was uniform agreement that the majority of these farmers markets
would not fully service the restaurants needs. Chefs
expressed dissatisfaction with low volumes of available
produce, narrow variety selection, limited days and hours,
and lack of time and staff to visit the market. Ohio has just
over 100 farmers markets and only one is open year round
(ODA 2006). Some farmers who sell both at the farmers
markets and to restaurants (especially on the same day)
sometimes view them as competing markets. One restaurant dedicated to local and organic food stated:

Restaurants, chefs and local foods

189

Sometimes the farmers who sell at the farmers market


dont save all your order for you when theyre at the
market. They sell to the customers who are there. This
is a liability to the restaurant because we wind up with
leftovers and a short supply of ingredients.
We are unable to determine from this data whether this
is a typical occurrence, but such an observation underscores some of the market nuances of farmers markets
identified by Hinrichs (2000). Hinrichs found that while
farmers markets can facilitate closer connections between
farmers and consumers, farmers primary desire for higher
prices can outrank motivations to build community and
external linkages.
Our findings related to access and distribution were
generally consistent with our expectation that structural
issues may be limiting more widespread adoption of local
foods. High volume local foods users describes ways to
procure product through direct relationships with farmers,
but all three sets of users reported a perception of limited
supply and a desire for regional distributors that either
wholly or partially specialize in locally produced foods.
Conclusions
In Table 4, we summarize our key findings for each of the
five research questions associated with the diffusion of
innovation literature. This framework is helpful for
understanding the diffusion of local foods over time among
members of the culinary community and also recognizes

the potential of restaurant professionals as opinion leaders


that can influence both customers and farmers. Local foods
as an innovation exhibits relative advantages to the dominant commodity system especially in terms of tastean
attribute highly valued by restaurants. Interestingly,
though, restaurants expressed mixed reactions regarding
the importance of production standards to themselves or
their customers, and often expressed a deferential trust in
farmers to produce high quality products.
As opinion leaders, current restaurant adopters of local
foods reported utilizing signage, wait staff and cooking
classes to promote the concept of local foods among their
staff and clientele, yet the degree to which these strategies
are able to create high awareness and sustained adoption is
unclear and requires further research. Likewise, we found
that the diffusion process across restaurants and between
restaurants and producers was limited by a lack of network
associations. We were particularly struck by the absence of
formal network linkages between restaurants and farm
groups, and by the potential of Chambers of Commerce to
act as bridging organizations. Early-adopter chefs utilizing
relatively high volumes of local food were more likely to
be operating expensive restaurants, likely providing them
with sufficient resources to overcome structural obstacles
associated with convenience, price and the absence of a
formal local foods distribution infrastructure.
As we reflect on the information gathered from our
interviews with chefs and restaurant owners in Ohio, we
offer several lessons and insights relevant to the academic
study and practical development of the local food system.

Table 4 Summary of research themes and findings


Themes

Findings

Characteristics of sample restaurants Early adopting, high volume users are more likely to operate moderately and expensively priced
restaurants.
Local food attributes valued by
restaurants

Taste was consistently reported as one of the most important purchasing criteria, regardless of level of
local food use. Restaurants expressed a widespread view that local generally has superior taste
attributes.
Convenience and price are important purchasing criterion for No to Low volume users of local foods.
High volume users were more willing to pay higher prices for local foods.

Opinion leader restaurants


communication methods
Restaurant networks

All categories of restaurants expressed low concern for specific production standards (such as organic)
and substantial trust and deference to the expertise of farmers.
High volume users used menus, specials and wait-staff to promote and educate diners about local foods.
Limiting factors to communication and opinion leadership include: supply inconsistency issues, cognitive
limitations of customers, and time constraints.
None of the restaurants studied were members of production based organizations and interview reports
indicate a bias toward local networks and direct relationships with local producers.
High and Medium volume users were more likely to be members of professional chef organizations.
All categories of restaurants had fairly high membership in local Chambers of Commerce.

Structural barriers

Perception of inadequate distribution infrastructure existed among all categories of restaurants.


Preference among all categories for a local distributor.
Many High volume users did report development of own food provisioning systems via direct
relationships, but supply inconsistencies still existed.

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190

When evaluating our sample of Ohio chefs in terms of their


position in the broader alternative agri-food movement
(Allen 2004), one striking finding of our research is the
general absence of ideological rhetoric informed by that
movements attention to issues of sustainability or social
justice. While it is possible to identify internationally
prominent chefs, such as Alice Waters, who strongly articulate many of the movements larger themes, we found taste
and quality to be the central attributes valued by prominent
Ohio restaurants utilizing local foods. Further, we uncovered
substantial deference to and trust of the farmers, and a
pragmatic view regarding the use of synthetic inputs among
some of these local food purchasers. While chefs and restaurants can be important partners in the movement to build
local food systems, it may be important to more closely
examine what parts of the movement are of interest to chefs,
as well as their motivations and assumptions.
While price does not appear to be a serious concern for
some of the early adopters of local foods in Ohio, price is an
issue for many potential adopters. Further, convenience and
ease of access remain problems among both current local
food purchasers and non-purchasers. Despite the rhetoric of
community building and authenticity touted as benefits of
face-to-face direct marketing (Lyson et al. 1995; Clancy
1997; Lyson and Green 1999), this study shows a preference
for the middlemen (local or regional distributors) who are
able to efficiently and consistently provide some amount of
locally grown foods. Such a preference is not unique to
restaurants; Weatherell et al. (2003) found that U.K. consumers will embrace local foods when products are
available in settings similar to those they are familiar with.
Restaurants are familiar with working with a small set of
distributors, not a range of farmers/growers. Thus, the
challenge is how to find a way to reconcile the desire for a
civic agriculture, where direct social relationships create
an awareness and responsibility among farmers, restaurants,
and citizens (Lyson 2004, p. 64) while developing distributional structures that recognize the time constraints of
chefs/buyers (as well as farmers).
This research study had a number of limitations. One was
our focus on longstanding, independent restaurants in large
urban markets. Future research should look beyond these
high profile, trendsetting firms to assess whether some of the
same motivations, practices, and challenges exist for rural or
exurban restaurants, as well as for regional or national
chains. Another set of questions concerns the views and
experiences of other actors in this food chain, specifically,
local farmers and consumers. A key question for farmers
pertains to the barriers and opportunities they recognize. A
key question pertaining to consumers is their appreciation
for local foods. There is also a need to assess the effectiveness of restaurants educational efforts to improve
consumer awareness and appreciation for local food.

123

S. M. Inwood et al.

We conclude by observing that restaurants and chefs can


be important actors in helping to create a broader appreciation of local foods within communities. A number of
practical challenges, though, must be overcome to allow
for more widespread adoption of local foods in the restaurant community and beyond. It must also be recognized
that their participation in local food systems does not
necessarily align them with the ecological and social justice themes of the broader alternative agri-food movement.
Just as restaurants seek to communicate the intrinsic
qualities of local foods to their customers, there may also
be a need to educate restaurants and chefs about other
potential values of locally-acquired products, such as to
support more sustainable farming, family farm livelihoods,
or more vital and just communities. Failure to engage in
these educational efforts by local foods system advocates
and organizations may narrow the meaning and appreciation of local foods, even as these foods become more
widely adopted within the broader community.
Acknowledgements The authors would like to acknowledge Jason
Parker and Greta Wyrick for their support, editorial and proof reading
assistance. Many thanks are due to Laura Ann Bergman and Innovative Farmers of Ohio for conceptualizing and laying the ground
work for this study. The Ohio Department of Agriculture-Ohio Proud
Program Specialty Crop Block Grant funded this study.

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Author Biographies
Shoshanah M. Inwood is a Ph.D. candidate in Rural Sociology at
The Ohio State University. Her research focuses on sustainable
agriculture, organic agriculture, agricultural change at the ruralurban
interface, farm succession, and local food system development.
Jeff S. Sharp is an associate professor of Rural Sociology at The
Ohio State University. His research interests include community and
agricultural change at the ruralurban interface.
Richard H. Moore is a professor in the Department of Human and
Community Resource Development at Ohio State University where
he leads the Sugar Creek Research Team.
Deborah H. Stinner is a research scientist and the administrative
coordinator of the Organic Food and Farming Education and Research
Program (OFFER) at The Ohio State Universitys Ohio Agriculture
Research and Development Center in Wooster, OH.

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