Regional food hubs are key mechanisms for creating large, consistent, reliable supplies of mostly locally or regionally produced foods. At the core of food hubs is a business management team that actively coordinates supply chain logistics. Food hubs work on the supply side with producers in areas such as sustainable production practices, production planning, season extension, packaging, branding, certification, and food safety—all of which is done to enable these producers to access wholesale customers, such as buyers for foodservice institutions and retail stores. Simultaneously, food hubs also work on the demand side by coordinating efforts with other distributors, processors, wholesale buyers, and even consumers to ensure they can meet the growing market demand for source-identified, sustainably produced, locally or regionally grown products.
Regional food hubs are defined less by a particular business or legal structure, and more by how their functions and outcomes affect producers and the wider communities they serve. Defining characteristics of a regional food hub include:
- Carries out or coordinates the aggregation, distribution, and marketing of primarily locally/regionally produced foods from multiple producers to multiple markets.
- Considers producers as valued business partners instead of interchangeable suppliers and is committed to buying from small to mid-sized local producers whenever possible.
- Works closely with producers, particularly small-scale operations, to ensure they can meet buyer requirements by either providing technical assistance or finding partners that can provide this technical assistance.
- Uses product differentiation strategies to ensure that producers get a good price for their products. Examples of product differentiation strategies include identity preservation (knowing who produced it and where it comes from), group branding, specialty product attributes (such as heirloom or unusual varieties), and sustainable production practices (such as certified organic, minimum pesticides, or “naturally” grown or raised).
- Aims to be financially viable while also having positive economic, social, and environmental impacts within their communities, as demonstrated by carrying out certain production, community, or environmental services and activities.
Food hubs are businesses or organizations that connect producers with buyers by offering a suite of production, distribution, and marketing services. It's an innovative business model that allows farmers of all sizes to meet the growing consumer demand for fresh, local food by gaining entry into commercial and larger volume markets such as grocery stores, hospitals and schools.