Supermarket shopper expectations are higher than ever. We expect to be able to buy almost any food, anywhere, at any time. And at a low price. In order to retain customers and avoid losing them to aggressive competitors, grocers aim to stock a consistent assortment of fresh foods regardless of season or location. Because most produce is now available year-round, we can lose touch with the seasonality of foods. Let’s discuss some benefits of shopping seasonally and nutritious ways to do this at our local supermarket.
Benefits of Shopping Seasonally
Technically, all fresh produce at supermarkets are seasonal because they are picked or harvested at the same time of the year as they are sold. However, if they are unable to be grown in-season locally, they must be sourced from a different region. So, before reviewing potential benefits, let’s clarify that we’re referencing local seasonal produce.
In-season produce can taste fresher and have a longer shelf life since the travel time and distance to the shelf is less. It is likely harvested at peak ripeness. Off-season produce that is grown farther away may be picked days or even weeks before hitting the supermarket shelf and ripen along the way or with the help of ethylene gas. Seasonal shopping also supports the local economy and farmers, increasing our personal connection with our food. Purchasing local, seasonal produce instead of produce sourced from far away shortens the supply chain and might benefit the environment too. Finally, the simple law of supply and demand dictates that you can get a good price on seasonal produce when there is a good crop available nearby.
What’s In Season?
There are some great online resources available to help you determine what’s in season in your area. We especially like this guide where you can enter your state and find what should be available by time of year. A word to the wise, it defaults to California and since it’s March, that page might bum you out if you live in a state with four seasons and a delayed spring like Maine. We’ll get there…
For meal planning inspiration, search Guiding Stars’ extensive and nutritious recipe database once you learn which produce is in-season near you.
The easiest way to shop seasonally for produce at your supermarket is to look for “local”. Many states have established marketing programs such as “Jersey Fresh” or “Got to be NC” that promote these foods. In most produce departments you can find farm stand displays and signage that feature produce from local farmers. Supermarkets are also required by law to provide Country of Origin Labeling on certain foods, including produce. When produce is out of season locally, you might be surprised by how far away the country of origin is that’s listed on packaging, Price Look Up stickers or signage.
I think it goes without saying that the most important thing we all can do regarding produce is eat more of it. Only 10% of Americans eat the recommended amount and there are many factors that affect people’s access to these health supporting foods. So consider eating locally and seasonally if it fits your lifestyle, but most importantly prioritize getting more Guiding Stars earning produce (fresh, canned and frozen) in your shopping cart.