Local food : where’s it been..where’s it going?

first published in Speciality Food

Is local food the answer for speciality food retailers? Speciality food businesses have to find the balance between representing their food place and encouraging food innovation. Local food makes sense, it brings the food maker and the food consumer closer together. But buying 100% local food would cripple innovation because if we all bought locally, food businesses couldn’t grow by exporting to new areas.

Where’s local food been?

Back in 2012 the CPRE Field to Fork reports warned us that the larger retailers were seriously damaging the local food networks. This was around about the time that the local food movement started to go mainstream and away from activist groups such as Tescopoly.

Today ‘local food’ captures a broad spectrum of food consumers from purists with close definitions of ‘local’ to pragmatists who want the best possible food from the closest possible producer. Local purists can set a specific ‘local’ distance ( in the CPRE report this was 30 miles) the issue with this is a rural area can have lots of producers but very few consumers leaving these producers with a limited market space. One solution is to define local by region or country, so for instance Welsh food opens up the local Welsh market to all the major towns and cities in Wales. The issue with the regional local definition is that a food producer in Hereford is closer to Cardiff than a producer in North Wales but not local as they are English…

Where’s local food now?

Within the mixed definitions of local, the IGD believes that local sourcing fits well into the modern supply chain for FMCG. This is because local suppliers tend to be trusted more by consumers, they can offer a more resilient local supply chain, they are increasingly adopting technology that supports a local supply chain and they offer a transparent and traceable solution. This goes to explain the increased interest in the local food supply chain. So the trade protectionism currently rising under Trump in America may be the reason for what the IFT describes as ‘New Nationalism’ with USA food shoppers increasingly favouring regional cuisine. Or it may be that US consumers are looking to local producers to replace giant food producers/retailers with whom they have lost faith. Similarly, the Food Navigator argues that the growing consumer preference for local food prevalent in Germany and the UK is because consumers hunt down small batch runs from producers who can supply exactly what they need from taste, nutrition, allergens etc.

Where’s local food going?

So local food which was the domain of the specialist food store is increasingly going to become part of the grocery mainstream. This is not a threat to specialist food retailers but an opportunity. Local is open for interpretation by the consumer not by the retailer, so it is up to us as local food suppliers to educate the next generation that local can mean both the small localised specialist and the large regional producers who have kept hold of their food provenance.

Good specialist food retailers already know the best regional / national food producers and should have a solid supply chain relationship with them. Good specialist food retailers are also aware of up and coming local producers who they can nurture and encourage. By supporting established and new food producers the independent food retailers can keep control of the local food supply chain. We (Thomas Jardine & Co) have found most local/regional food producers are increasingly preferring a good local supply chain to the alternative of supplying the multiples.

The future of food retailing is ensuring consumer trust in the product you are selling and the local food agenda is part of this…happy retailing