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Are we losing our links to local produce?

Where do you go for your grocery shopping? I’m a self-confessed supermarket shopper. But is the convenience of supermarket shopping suppressing our appetite for locally produced food?

After work, I find that it’s simply easier to sweep in to the supermarket and do my shopping all in one place. And apparently, I’m not the only one. According to a report by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) this week, the rise of supermarket shopping is increasingly muscling local food out of the market.

Unable to compete with low supermarket prices, local food businesses are being eaten up (and spat out) by supermarket chains, which account for 97.8% of the grocery sector. Admittedly, this didn’t come as a revelation to me. As a city dweller, I know from experience that the convenience of supermarket shopping is hard to contend with.

Why buy local?

But with supermarkets only stocking between 0% and 4% of their produce from local suppliers, this number’s about as low as you can get without those suppliers being eaten up whole. Using local food, defined as ‘being grown or produced within 30 miles of where it’s sold’, is a tasty idea, with 16 million people agreeing as they seek out and buy local produce every week.

Knowing where your food has come from is certainly appealing and, if it doesn’t have to be trucked in from afar, so much the better. When I used to live with my parents in Kent, a nosey around the farm shop on a Saturday could turn up some great tasting gems – and there was something very satisfying about going to a local farmer for your eggs too.

Losing local links

However, despite there being an obvious interest out there, it appears that local produce is in danger of being killed off completely. But is it up to shoppers to seek out local produce, or should the supermarkets do more to ensure there is more available on their shelves?

I know I would be more tempted to buy local produce if it was more readily available where I shop, and I think that as the appetite is out there, supermarkets should sit up and take notice.
Do you regularly buy local produce? Should supermarkets be doing more to help out local suppliers and supporting local businesses?

Comments
Member

I enjoy nothing more than a trip to a farmers’ market – especially some of the enormous ones in London! But I think the problems are twofold – convenience and cost.

I’d love to buy my bread from the local bakery, my veg and eggs from the local farmer and my fish from the fishmonger, but I simply don’t have the time to do that alongside my bulk shopping. Personally, while I’m perfectly willing to pay a bit extra for good quality local meat/veg, I can understand why the price puts people off when food bills are continuously rising.

Member

Just a small correction, Florence. CPRE is currently the Campaign to Protect Rural England. The organisation has changed its name a couple of times, so it’s hardly surprising that we get confused.

It makes no transport food thousands of miles when it can be grown locally. It’s great to support local farmers but surely the environmental issue is a higher priority. Most of us use supermarkets, so it is vital to push them to stock local food.

Member

I wish that supermarkets would sell much more local produce, and label it properly. At the moment, my local Tesco has Yorkshire carrots grown in Scotland. 🙂

Member

Oops – thanks for letting me know wavechange – the correct name should be shown now.

Member

A lot of people say they “don’t have the time” to go round the local shops to get the best produce. In many cases that is genuinely true but in an awful lot of cases it is just not true. It is a question of the management of time and the priority we attach to different activities. For some people doing their social networking is far more important, or reading the newspaper, or washing the car. The supermarkets, of course, capitalise on the fact that they stay open later so that people can do their shopping after they get home from work [or as their last port of call before they reach home]. Enterprising local shopkeepers would do the same . . . but with rare exceptions they don’t. Being retired we can, and do, use the local butcher, baker, greengrocer and fishmonger but it takes quite a bit of organisation: the butcher closes on Tuesday afternoons and has usually sold out by 3 pm; the baker also has little left after 2 pm; the greengrocer only comes on Fridays for the Charter Market; the fishmonger is always at the Charter Market and sometimes on one or two other days but I have not yet deduced any regularity in those appearances. There is a Farmers Market on the second Saturday of every month but the producers’ visitations are similarly erratic. There is an anything-goes market every Saturday which often has an egg man or a pie stall, or both – you’ll never guess, plus someone selling whatever is in season [like asparagus at the moment] but if you don’t get down there by ten o’clock the seller of the superb sausages will have sold her stock and gone. Morrisons and Tesco on the other hand are open all hours, just like our traditional shops used to be.

Member
Gerard Phelan says:
14 June 2012

Here in Epsom we have two greengrocers regularly attending the twice weekly market. However selling English (never mind local) grown food it seems to be the exception rather than the rule. They can probably get Spanish produce cheaper, which makes it our (the customers) fault for caring about the price. This is why I shop in Waitrose, where earlier this evening had to choose between Oxfordshire asparagus and that from Hampshire. Two weeks ago the choice was Yorkshire and Hampshire, but the market stalls only offered Spanish.

Member

Yes, we always look at the crates to check the label of origin. The market stalls do not always support local growers, especially if they cannot get their produce into the wholesale markets where the stall-holders buy their stock. The volumes produced by local growers and offered fresh on a daily basis are not enough to justify a round trip of sixty miles or more to the wholesale market every evening. Their alternative is to hawk it round the greengrocers who go to the local markets in a different town or village every day. By the time they have rung the greengrocer to offer a few trays of tomatoes or strawberries his van is already loaded with mass-produced Spanish stuff. The farmers market is the safer bet but people will not support it sufficiently because the availability of stock is not as reliable as in the supermarkets. People say they don’t like the shape and colour irregularities in the produce offered by small-holders; they go so far as to claim that the farmers markets only sell fruit and veg not acceptable to the big retailers: possibly true, but they don’t know what delights they are missing. Once it’s dressed and presented for the table I defy anyone to discriminate between local and continental produce other than by the former’s superior flavour and texture. So toothsome too.