From Hyper-local to Hyper-loyal: Ingredient Sources Matter to Your Guests

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“Locally sourced.” “Regionally sourced.” “We use local ingredients.” “Proudly serving local.” You and your guests have no doubt seen these on bar and restaurant menus, websites and social media channels. In fact, you may be among the operators who use such terms to signal to your community that you’ve integrated local products onto your menu.

Operators should certainly seek to create relationships with providers of local ingredients, and not just because it’s great marketing. Taking just food and cocktail ingredients into consideration, supporting local suppliers means boosting your community economically and environmentally. A significant portion of today’s guests have made it clear that they expect—not hope, expect—that the businesses they patronize will engage in responsibly, sustainable practices. Millennials in particular are leading this charge.

But how local are your ingredients really? Are they local or are they hyper-local?

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Mixologist Raymond Kanehailua, Jr. tackled this topic at the 2018 Nightclub & Bar Show during his “Hyper-Local Cocktails” session. It turns out that local or regional ingredients may not be as local as your guests expect them to be. What does that mean? Just read below:

The term 'locally or regionally produced agricultural food product' means any agricultural food product that is raised, produced, and distributed in--

(I) the locality or region in which the final product is marketed, so that the total distance that the product is transported is less than 400 miles from the origin of the product; or;

(II) the State in which the product is produced.

Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, Pub. L. 110-246, 122 Stat. 1929

Four. Hundred. Miles. To put “local” in the context of 400 miles, Minneapolis, MN, is just over 400 miles away from Chicago, IL. It would seem strange to some to call an ingredient sourced in Chicago and used in Minneapolis “local,” but it falls within the parameters above. This is interesting as food and beverage researchers at the Hartman Group found that half of those surveyed about the understanding of “local” by consumers believe it means a product was made within 100 miles of their geographic location. Clearly there’s some disparity when it comes to attempting to define what makes a product local.

Conversely, according to Kanehailua, Jr., “hyper-local” may not be a common or precisely defined term, but the meaning is unmistakably clear on the surface. Tell a guest a cocktail on your menu is made with hyper-local ingredients and they’ll immediately assume it’s from somewhere close to your bar or restaurant. And they’d be correct, assuming you as an operator adhere to broadly agreed up guidelines found online: an ingredient grown within a few miles of your community that can be consumed the same day it was picked.

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So, where do you start to offer hyper-local ingredients in your cocktails? Kanehailua, Jr. suggests identifying what ingredients are unique to your area. From there, drill down a bit deeper to what seasonal ingredients are unique to the area in which you operate. To make the prospect of using hyper-local ingredients more cost effective, get creative and figure out how you can maximize usage of each item behind the bar at in the kitchen. Plant-based garnishes are great, for example, but what about using that same item to make syrups, tinctures, infusions, infused ice cubes, etc.?

If you have the space and resources, take a page from several innovative independent bars and restaurants: cultivate your own on-premise garden. The weather is getting warmer, so now's a great time to plant your garden out back or on your roof. For visual impact, install vertical garden solutions on your walls, particularly if you have the space behind the bar. You just may find that locals with a green thumb may want to help you with your garden, cutting down on labor costs. What’s more hyper-local (hyperer?) than ingredients produced feet away from your bar?

Kanehailua, Jr. also sings the praises of bees and honey. Understandably so when you consider how important bees are to global and regional food systems. He recommends making housemade honey syrups, using them to create variations on honey-based cocktails. There’s the Bee’s Knees, of course, but also the Penicillin to get your started. To find a beekeeper association in your area, visit this page from Bee Culture magazine. They should be able to point you to a hyper-local beekeeper you can partner with in your area.

Read this: Yes Please, Honey

Going hyper-local will require some detective work and creative thinking. It will also pay off as today’s guest focuses more and more on sustainability, responsible business practices and supporting companies that truly use authentic, local ingredients. When you've found hyper-local producers with which to work, learn their stories and include them in your marketing, storytelling and menus. As the weather turns warmer and seasonal ingredients become more readily available, make the effort to go beyond local to hyper-local.