What Exactly Does it Mean to Support Local?

Support local campaigns have seen huge growth since the COVID-19 lockdown and alert levels.  Businesses and brands promoting themselves as locals and asking for consumer support. But what exactly does it mean to support local?

Is it that the company is locally owned, but may be selling local or imported products?

Is it a local producer but using imported ingredients?

Is it a local supermarket that employs local but is owned offshore?

From advertisements on social media platforms to branded marketing campaigns, it’s hard for consumers not to know about the ‘Support Local’ movement. It would seem to be a simple concept but in actual fact, there is confusion surrounding what shopping and buying locally actually means and why it is important.

Consider a consumer purchasing an orange from a locally owned grocery store, now the orange is imported but the local grocer is wholly New Zealand owned. Is the consumer therefore supporting local?

Should a consumer choose to eat at a McDonald’s owned by a local business owner, but McDonald's is an international corporation or should they shop at a local corner independent burger bar? Does a shopper support Kmart to purchase a product because they employ New Zealanders or should they shop at an independently New Zealand owned store that also employs locals?

Arguments can be made for all sides but supporting local businesses and the benefits that come with that don’t have to be black and white all or nothing choices. In the grocery world, supporting local can mean supporting local business owners that import product from overseas for supermarket shelves. It could mean supporting a NZ brand that is made using local ingredients but is sold in an overseas-owned supermarket. Or it could even mean supporting a brand that is NZ-owned that uses only local ingredients but perhaps is using imported packaging.

Lots of locally owned brands had a boost during lockdown when supermarkets were unable to replenish stock fast enough with their usual imported brands and looked locally for stock. Unfortunately, following lockdown, most of these brands were then discontinued when the former brands were able to continue supply. Some made the transition however, so COVID-19 had a positive impact on their business.

In the same vein during lockdown consumers turned to local companies that had pivoted to supply grocery items direct to consumers, but following lockdown, these consumers went back to their usual brands and buying patterns through supermarkets. There were also instances where consumers who were happy to continue to purchase from local suppliers but were turned away when the company ‘pivoted’ back to supplying the trade and commercial accounts.

Regardless of what you consider #supportlocal to mean, the one vital takeout is simply that brands need to be very conscious of walking the talk - don't say you are local when your brand is 90% imported, say you are employing locals yes, but don't pretend that you are made here when you are not. For example, locally included salt, water or packaging doesn't make a local brand, you may be employing New Zealander’s but your product is not made in New Zealand, nor are you wholly New Zealand owned.

Perhaps what we really mean is don’t buy from offshore e-commerce sites?