You already know it’s good business to serve locally grown products at your restaurant. So pray that a bill currently working its way through the Louisiana legislature becomes law. It would give restaurant operators there a four percent rebate as an incentive to buy state-grown or harvested products. Why couldn’t other states follow suit?
Few industries hold as much sway over the workings of state governments as agriculture. Which helps explain why Louisiana State Sen. Fred Mills (R-St. Martinville) found such a ready reception when he introduced Senate Bill 81 in the Louisiana legislature earlier this year. The proposal would reward restaurant operators with a four percent rebate each time they purchased a food product grown or harvested in Louisiana. Funds for the payout would come from the promotion and marketing boards that represent the various agricultural specialties.
Here’s the official language that describes what the bill is intended to do: “Creates the Louisiana Buy Local Purchase Incentive Program to promote the consumption of Louisiana agricultural products by granting incentive payments to certain restaurant establishments for purchases of agricultural products.”
Senate Bill 81was approved by the Senate in mid-May by a 30-1 vote and has since passed the House Committee on Agriculture, Forestry Aquaculture and Rural Development by a 10-0 count. Presuming the bill passes a full vote in the Louisiana House of Representatives, it will be sent to Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal for his signature. Given the near-unanimous bipartisan support Senate Bill 81 has received so far, its passage seems like a lock.
Once it’s in effect, the new Louisiana Buy Local Purchase Incentive Program will operate under the aegis of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, where it will be administered and supervised by the Louisiana Agricultural Finance Authority. It will pay restaurant operators $1 for each $25 worth of Louisiana food products they purchase.
What are the “certain restaurant establishments” that will be eligible for reimbursement? The law is seemingly worded to exclude bars. Here are the requirements for restaurant participation:
- “Operates a place of business whose average monthly revenue from food and nonalcoholic beverages exceeds fifty percent of its total average monthly revenue from the sale of food, nonalcoholic beverages, and alcoholic beverages."
- “Serves food on all days of operation."
- “Maintains separate sales figures for alcoholic beverages."
- "Operates a fully equipped kitchen used for the preparation of uncooked foods for service and consumption of such foods on the premises."
- "Has a public habitable floor area of no less than five hundred square feet. This law does not apply to business locations that apply to or have been licensed to sell or serve alcoholic beverages prior to August 1, 2006, and have not discontinued the sale and service of such beverages for more than six months.”
In short, it looks like Louisiana restaurant operators are on the verge of getting a sizable cash incentive to do something most were already doing in the first place. The entire locavore movement has been about serving product sourced from your local area, helping small producers and family farmers make a living while theoretically giving customers fresher, more authentic food in the bargain. It was an argument that made sense for many operators in the first place; giving them a cash incentive for taking this approach should get most of the others on board.
What foods are included in the deal? "Louisiana agricultural products" means the following products produced in Louisiana: agronomic, aquacultural, floricultural, horticultural, silvicultural, and viticultural products, including but not limited to: plants,
crops, livestock, dairy products, and fruits; crawfish, catfish, other fish, shrimp, oysters, crabs, underutilized species, and any other seafood and freshwater food; and all meat and meat products including beef, veal, pork, mutton, poultry, and products made therefrom.”
Louisiana Senate Bill 81 seems to make sense for almost every constituency involved up and down the food chain. Which is why we’re hoping restaurant associations in other states get similar legislation started in their locales. The Louisiana Restaurant Association was involved in helping this bill move through the legislature, and we can see restaurant associations in other states following suit. We say just express an interest and your state’s powerful agricultural lobby will take it from there. Play this the right way and you could trim your restaurant’s food cost by the four percent.