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Sept. 18, 2013

Food hubs seen as profitable businesses, national survey shows

Food hubs are growing to meet the need for local food distribution infrastructure, according to Michigan State University research.

Food hubs are businesses or organizations that manage the aggregation, distribution and marketing of source-identified food products. The 2013 National Food Hub Survey, conducted by MSU’s Center for Regional Food Systems and the Wallace Center at Winrock International, show that hubs throughout the United States continue to develop as financially viable businesses providing locally produced food to restaurants, schools, grocery stores and other wholesale customers.

Food hubs may also provide much needed size-appropriate infrastructure and marketing opportunities for local food produced by small and midsized farms and ranches.

“Surveys such as this one provide much needed data for those looking to fund, evaluate and further investigate the role of food hubs in regional food systems. It also provides a way for us to track the change in food hub development over the next decade – we intend to conduct this survey every two years,” said Michael Hamm, C.S. Mott Professor of Sustainable Agriculture and CRFS director.

The survey represents one of the most comprehensive data sets on food hub operations to date, he added. The survey gathered information on topics such as the financial state of food hubs, the numbers and types of farmers and ranchers that they work with, and the types of customers they serve. Key findings from the survey indicate that food hubs are:

Financially viable. More than 65 percent of food hubs operate independently from outside funding sources contributing significantly to the growth of their local economies. The average food hub’s sales in 2012 exceeded $3.7 million creating jobs. The average food hub maintains 19 paid positions supporting regional producers. The average food hub worked with 80 producers (i.e., farms and ranches), the majority of which are small or midsized contributing to food access. Nearly half of all food hubs have operational commitments to equity, increasing food access and/or community development.

“Food hubs are pivotal for meeting the growing demand for regionally produced, healthy food because they offer farmers a profitable channel for reaching wholesale markets, provide valuable aggregation and distribution services otherwise often missing, and efficiently manage relationships and transactions with buyers,” said John Fisk, Wallace Center at Winrock International director. “We are excited to see the continued growth and development of food hubs across the country.”

A full report of the survey findings can be found on the CRFS website and on the Wallace Center’s site.

The Wallace Center’s National Good Food Network will host a webinar highlighting key findings from the report at 3:30 p.m. on Sept. 19. Registration is free and open until broadcast time at