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STRATEGY

Hot Market: Locavores
 

Tainted burgers. Contaminated eggs. E. coli scares. No wonder Americans are looking close to home for their food.

Brian Stauffer

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In 2007, the New Oxford American Dictionary crowned locavore word of the year. The number of farmers' markets has more than doubled in the past 10 years, according to the USDA. A third of all adults in the U.S. say they regularly buy natural and organic food when possible; and 59 percent say they buy local whenever possible, according to Mintel, a research firm.

The Inspiration: In 2002, Tracey Ryder and Carole Topalian were putting in long hours at their Ojai, California–based design firm. Leisure moments typically found them picking over produce at the town's bustling farmers' market, sitting in friends' kitchens watching them prepare meals, and engaging in endless conversations about the best bakeries and wine and cheese shops. Their enthusiasm for local food reached a peak when the advocacy group Slow Food USA named the pixie tangerine of Ojai Valley to its U.S. Ark of Taste (a list of outstanding foods in danger of disappearing). "Just being in the middle of it, noticing what was going on, it was a very organic -- pardon the pun -- way of recognizing need," says Ryder.

The Business: Edible Communities, based in Santa Fe, New Mexico, licenses regional publishers to produce magazines about local foods. The magazines -- with names such as Edible Aspen, Edible Portland, and Edible Chicago -- are distributed free in their communities; subscriptions cost $28 a year. The magazines are supported by advertising, chiefly from farmers, farmers' markets, specialty stores, and restaurants. The company charges franchisees a start-up fee and collects 5 percent of ad sales.

How It Got Started: Ryder and Topalian launched Edible Ojai as a lark. Then, in 2004, Saveur named the publication to its annual list of 100 favorite people, places, and things and encouraged other localities to get in on the act. Ryder and Topalian put up a website, and within a week they had 400 requests from people around the country who wanted their own Edibles. Casting about for a business model, Ryder and Topalian accepted a consultant's suggestion that they license the brand and provide support for publishers. "These people own and operate their own magazines in their own communities," says Topalian. "They have advertisers in their own communities. They spend the money they make in their own communities." Adds Ryder: "We can say to advertisers that 100 percent of our readers are your customers." National businesses such as Organic Valley, Niman Ranch, and even Eileen Fisher have staked out turf in Edible's pages as well, but the company preserves 90 percent of its space for the locals.

The Result: Edible Communities now consists of 70 titles, and the company adds, on average, one magazine a month. Most have been profitable after the first year or so, and none have closed (although a few have been sold). The parent company is also profitable, with revenue doubling every year for the past three years.

Last updated: Nov 1, 2010

LEIGH BUCHANAN is an editor-at-large for Inc. magazine. A former editor at Harvard Business Review and founding editor of WebMaster magazine, she writes regular columns on leadership and workplace culture.
@LeighEBuchanan




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