Eric Buzby of A. T. Buzby Farm is a second generation farmer and one of the strongest farm partners of the Common Market food hub in Philadelphia. (Photo: Common Market)

Consumer demand for local foods, which they perceive as healthier, is undeniably growing. Operators want to satisfy this demand but face issues dealing with supply consistency, reliability, food safety and logistics.

Enter the regional food hub.

These partnerships between foodservice companies and local producers facilitate a consistent supply of products with customer appeal while also assuring them that their business helps companies and farmers in the area. For those producers, the hub presents a way to get business from customers they wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to approach.

A new national  report, Solving Local, presents five case studies showing how hubs are teaming up with wholesalers to get products from small farms and other food businesses into high-volume supply chains.

One of the five regional food hubs profiled in the Wallace Center report is Common Market in Philadelphia, which realized $1.7 million in sales last year to more than 200 local customers, including schools, colleges, hospitals and workplaces. Collectively, these segments represent almost half of Common Market’s current business, with the rest consisting of retailers, restaurants and various nonprofits and faith-based organizations.

Sales have grown some 60% since 2011 and the food hub is looking for even more by casting its net north into the New York City market and south into Baltimore. It stocks more than 700 sustainably produced SKUs, including fruits, vegetables, dairy, meats, grains and various value-added products and works with more than 75 farmers in the Mid-Atlantic region.

The most recent development has been a frozen spinach pilot that is Common Market’s first foray into local, source-identified frozen produce. Institutional customers, especially hospitals, have driven demand for lightly processed produce that gives the food hub a year-round business opportunity.