There is an explosion of locally made jams, sausages, salsas and granolas filling the shelves of grocery stores and farmers’ markets. People like Frank Gublo, an Innovation Counselor at the Michigan State University Product Center, are largely responsible for local food’s prevalence.
This week, Cynthia Canty spoke with Gublo and two other local food entrepreneurs, Will Branch and Shannon Byrne. Branch is owner of Corridor Sausages, while Byrne owns Slow Jams, both based out of Southeast Michigan.
The growing interest in local food is brought upon by consumers’ eating habits.
“People are changing the way they eat,” says Gublo. “When you have a fine dining experience, you create nostalgia. People are moving from eating-for-fuel to wanting more of an experience.”
Michigan pride also drives the local food scene. “There is a whole group of people who have a deep commitment to our state and growing economies,” says Byrne. “They look at how we can support these industries from an economic perspective.”
But, as noted by Canty, the life of a local food entrepreneur is a trying one. Early hours, unpredictable crop devastation and the pressures of running a business are but a few of the challenges faced by these entrepreneurs.
So why even bother doing it?
“One of the most amazing parts is when you bring a product to market and have someone taste your jam and say, ‘I haven’t had jam like this since my great grandmother.’ That kind of connection is what gets you to the market at 5am,” says Byrne.
This unique connection with the customer is what drives Byrne, Gublo and Branch.
“In Royal Oak on Saturdays I can have someone taste the Vietnamese chicken sausage and say, ‘This is amazing!’ It’s this positive response we’ve had that keeps us going,” says Branch.
With the growing number of local products comes the need to differentiate one’s brand from the others around it. “You have to have a product that is different and profitable,” says Gublo.
Thanks to Gublo’s advice and the creative marketing of people like Branch and Byrne, Detroit’s local food scene only continues to grow.
“Detroit will be a place where people come for the food scene. It will be a place where we get known for high-quality, locally-produced products,” says Byrne.
For these three entrepreneurs, local food is a labor of love. But as Branch notes, there are few regrets.
“There has never been a day since we started where I wanted to go back to sitting at a desk all day.”
- Cameron Stewart, Michigan Radio Newsroom
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