Supermarkets put local food networks under siege

By Lorraine Mullaney

- Last updated on GMT

Local food networks are “under siege from supermarkets”, warned the Campaign to Protect Rural England
Local food networks are “under siege from supermarkets”, warned the Campaign to Protect Rural England
Government should re-examine competition policy to support the growth of local food networks, which are “under siege from supermarkets”.

This was just one of the recommendations of a new report from the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE). The report, ‘From field to fork: The value of England’s local food webs’​, was the culmination of a five-year research project.

Graeme Willis, senior food campaigner for CPRE, said: “The rise of out-of-town supermarkets and insufficient leadership from government over many years have left many local food webs under siege. Action must be taken to support them, and revitalise our high streets and local economies.”

Local food outlets serve an estimated 16.3M customers a week and local food sales via independent outlets are worth £2.7bn a year to the economy. These food outlets support over 100,000 jobs.

Willis said: “With around 50p in every £1 we spend in shops spent on food, it is a tremendous opportunity for businesses, from farms to retailers of all sizes, to engage shoppers in making a difference.”

Supermarket chains

Despite this, national supermarket chains dominate grocery spending, accounting for 77% of all main shopping trips.

The report recommended that supermarkets set demanding targets for stocking and selling local food. The CPRE said Morrisons and Sainsbury had no online data on sales of local food and no definition of the term.

The report cited “strong indications” that Asda uses a 30-mile definition, while Tesco reportedly stated: “Local lines are those produced or sold within a county or neighbouring county in England, or within the county in Ireland, Scotland and Wales.”

Lorna Hegenbarth, food chain adviser for the National Farmers Union (NFU), had yet another definition, and said the provenance trend was driven by consumers’ desires. She told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “The supermarkets are responding to what consumers want and it always comes back down to the definition of local.

“For the NFU, local is British. The regional argument doesn’t stack up. If it’s a product you want then it’s going to be as local as you can source it.”

A hard time

Graham Childs founded the Artisan Food Trail to support small producers who were “getting a hard time”, he said. He agreed that the term “local food” was “woolly” and suggested that a 40–50 mile radius covered a sufficiently large area from which to source ingredients as some produce isn’t grown or available in certain areas of the country.

He stressed the importance of building communities to support small food suppliers. He told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “Without outlets, producers are stuck online and at food shows. Suffolk and Norfolk have a big farmers market community but in other areas of the country it’s not the same. Wherever there are farmers’ markets, there’s activity in town centres.”

But Sian Thomas, communications manager for the Fresh Produce Consortium, said imported produce could also be sustainable. She told FoodManufacture.co.uk: "Both UK production and imports are critical to deliver UK and global food security, and that both can be sustainable.

“Research shows that some imported fruit and vegetables are grown in less intensive ways than the same products in the UK.”

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