UK shoppers not bothered about food miles: NZ study

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags New zealand Supermarket

UK consumers are not as concerned about the distance their food has travelled as the emphasis on local food and food miles implies, find researchers from New Zealand.

The term ‘food miles’ emerged in the 1990s and refers to the distance food travels between its place of production and place of consumption. In recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in food produced as locally as possible, especially when it comes to fresh produce, as part of an effort to reduce carbon emissions.

At the same time, new European rules on country of origin labelling for food product are currently being debated in Brussels, and the indication at present is that more detailed information will be required on more products.

The researchers involved in the new study, which has been accepted for publication in the journal Food Policy​, are concerned that awareness of food miles could be a non-tariff barrier. They were concerned that New Zealand food exports could suffer, as well as exports from developing countries (even though official statistics indicate New Zealand food exports have grown from around NZ$0.9bn to NZ$1.2bn since 2003).

To test true UK consumer attitudes, they conducted two surveys, one on the street in the UK and one in a supermarket. The researcher asking the questions had an English accent, so the participants would not suspect that they had anything to do with New Zealand.

Of those asked on the street, 21.5 per cent food miles or distance would prevent them from buying food from New Zealand. When people were asked in the supermarket about food they had actually bought, however, only 3.6 per cent indicated they had consciously chosen British produce.

The researchers do note the drawback to this methodology, in that it the people questioned in the two surveys were not necessarily the same demographic. It is possible that people asked on the street do not actually shop at supermarkets, but at farmers markets.

However the researchers also conducted semi-structured in depth interviews with five importers and distributors of New Zealand foods in the UK, two people from New Zealand Trade and Enterprise in London, one from Defra, and six opinion-leaders from the UK sheep and dairy industry.

The companies indicated that they had not noticed any real decline in sales, and the farmers were surprisingly supportive of New Zealand agriculture, the researchers said.

They concluded: “The data in this paper provide an indication that the food miles argument has been greatly over-stated, and that its impact may be negligible”.


Food Policy, published online ahead of print

DOI: 10.1016/j/foodpol.2010.05.011

“Food miles: Do UK consumers actually care?”

Authors: Kemp, K., Insch, A., Holdsworth, D., Knight, J

Related topics Market Trends

Related news

Follow us


View more