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Well into the future, cities will play an increasingly important role in strengthening the food sector, helping to maximize its economic potential and ensure that all residents have access to fresh, healthy food.  Filling that role effectively is critically important given that the food sector serves as a linchpin of social, economic, and environmental sustainability and community well-being. 

The purpose of the City Food Sector Scan for Innovation and Investment was to develop a roadmap for cities to create innovative, resilient, and productive local and regional food systems that deliver near-term benefits and sustainable value. The project was partnership of the City and County of San Francisco and the Cities of Minneapolis, Portland, Seattle and Vancouver and was funded through the Innovation Fund of the Urban Sustainability Directors Network, a Project of the Global Philanthropy Partnership, through the support of the Surdna Foundation and the Summit Foundation.   

The Wallace Center and Changing Tastes, conducting research on behalf of the City of San Francisco, developed a Roadmap for City Food Sector Innovation and Investment and Roadmap Investment Evaluation Tool, based on a Program Scan and Literature Review covering more than 180 urban, regional, and national studies on local food systems, job creation, economic development, and financial risk. A key feature of this work is a set of case studies on new innovative food business models such as food hubs, online marketplaces, and mobile food markets. The research also resulted in a set of investment decision-making tools to evaluate the risks and returns associated with many kinds of food business investments.


Local governments are increasingly interested in developing their local food systems to realize both local economic and job creation benefits and also public health, environmental and social benefits. But where and how to invest are often challenging questions for cities to answer.

Furthermore, in many parts of the food sector, and particularly for local or sustainable foods, the information available to help cities answer those questions and make informed decisions about the sector’s economic benefits is currently fragmented, scattered, and of uneven quality. Nor is there an analytic framework or tool or that adequately takes into account and assigns value to the important assets that cities provide. 

The purpose of North American Food Sector, Part One: Program Scan and Literature Review is to examine an extensive body of the best available research and practices, and to establish a foundation for a roadmap and toolkit for cities to spur innovation in the food sector, and thus help improve the adaptability and resilience of communities in the future. 



North American Food Sector, Part Two: Roadmap for City Food Sector Innovation and Investment outlines steps to establish a local vision, inventory and map food assets and gaps, evaluate investment options and manage financial risk, as well as select municipal policies and initiatives that can improve the success of local food entrepreneurs and local businesses. The Roadmap Investment Evaluation Tool provides templates, spreadsheets, and data to start the process.

It is the hope of the project team that these documents will help cities throughout the nation foster innovative food sector investments that would yield sustainable benefits in the form of job creation, higher wages, revenues generated, and increased access to healthy foods among all communities. These are now major areas of concern for many metropolitan areas as they become more deeply engaged in food system planning – an increasingly critical need to help create a resilient food system.


The development of the roadmap was undertaken in two phases.  The project team first conducted a comprehensive literature review to survey the sustainable economic development potential of the food sector nationally, and to assemble a set of innovative case studies to complement the national scan.  In the second phase, the team drew upon the evidence-based foundation of the literature review and their collective experience and successes to develop the roadmap, focusing on leverage points in the food system that are within the ability of cities to change.  The results of this work are the two companion documents, North American Food Sector, Part One: Program Scan and Literature Review and North American Food Sector, Part Two: Roadmap for City Food Sector Innovation and Investment and its Roadmap Investment Evaluation Tool

In addition, the research results and highlights were presented as part of the Wallace Center's monthly webinar series


The literature review uncovered evidence suggesting that investing in new ventures within select supply chain segments would generate the greatest local economic benefits in terms of increased local revenues, jobs, wages, and access to healthy food:

  • In priority order, processing and retail/consumption (including foodservice) have the greatest economic benefits, depending on the strength of the local infrastructure and related asset base. 
  • Processing overall has the largest jobs impact with respect to number of jobs created, their stability and potential career paths, and wages (roughly comparable to foodservice on an hourly basis).
  • Processing and retail/foodservice provide higher wages overall and have the highest growth potential.
  • Food waste reduction and recovery is an area with high potential that may deliver local economic development benefits, particularly in creating/processing value-added products from and stimulating markets for fruit and vegetable “seconds” and for near expiry food.
  • Ownership structure (e.g., public/private partnerships or cooperatives) can help spread risk and thereby enhance economic return.

To obtain more on-the-ground, granular information about local economic benefit of food sector investments, as well as the most promising examples for achieving these benefits, our team reviewed a wide variety of innovative food ventures operating in urban areas, with an eye toward highlighting and learning from examples that had the greatest impact on local economic development, job creation, and increasing access to healthy affordable food.  

Despite an overall lack of complete and rigorous data—particularly on some of the newer and evolving innovations—research suggests that right now, some categories of innovations have more potential for investment or policy impact on local and regional economic development and job creation than others:

  • Local/regional food hubs: These ventures provide a single location dedicated to processing, marketing, and distribution of regionally grown foods. While some may only directly provide around 15 jobs on average, the largest among them contribute to job creation throughout the local food supply chain.
  • Food business technology companies: These range in size from 7-70 employees, but are a source of high-skill, high-pay jobs, are quickly expanding, and are an important intermediary in meeting fast-growing demand and shaping consumer demand.
  • Food business incubators: These “businesses that create businesses” provide the local learning infrastructure to decrease the failure rate of new businesses (from 56% to 13%), and bring job training and business ownership opportunities to historically excluded populations.
  • Farm to institution-supporting businesses: There is tremendous demand from institutions for regional sourcing, but a growing need for intermediaries to manage relationships and logistics; these businesses are bridging this gap, and a growing body of knowledge is helping to understand how to best deliver economic benefit to both buyers and suppliers.

In-depth analysis, including case studies, is available in the complete Program Scan and Literature Review.

The Roadmap for City Food Sector Innovation and Investment is intended to guide cities as they develop investment strategies that increase the number of new innovations and ventures in their local food systems, and helps improve the odds of their survival and success. It includes an asset inventory, tools and strategies, and indicators, together with investment priorities and worksheets that are designed to help make the local economic case, maximize sustainable return on investment, and manage risk.  The aim of this toolkit is to help cities play an essential role in strengthening local food systems and stimulating innovation in the food sector, through a series of five key steps:

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The complete Roadmap for City Food Sector Innovation and Investment and Roadmap Investment Evaluation Tool is available for download in the Wallace Center Resource Library.

For a discussion of highlights from both documents, as well as the research team's insights into getting started with using the Roadmap, watch the City Food Scan Webinar, presented as part of the Wallace Center's monthly webinar series. 



City of San Francisco's Planning Department - Food Policy website:

Changing Tastes: www.changingtastes.net


City of San Francisco: Diana Sokolove - diana.sokolove@sfgov.org 

Wallace Center: John Fisk - jfisk@winrock.org 

Changing Tastes: Cynthia Pansing - cynthia@changingtastes.net 

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