A YouGov survey conducted in April this year revealed a gaping discrepancy between consumer demands for local produce and those who actually buy locally-sourced produce.
For Shane Holland, executive chairman of Slow Food UK, a limited retail landscape is to blame. “Consumers don't buy local food because most consumers buy most of the food from supermarkets [and] most supermarkets – with the notable exception of Booths and a small amount in Waitrose – don't sell regional food in any way. There are more than 4000 regional varieties of apple in the UK - yet 70% of supermarket apples are three varieties, and the majority imported.”
But could technological innovations help consumers put their money where their mouths are? The UK’s Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) recently spoke out in favour of certain online initiatives, such as Tesco’s tool which allowed consumers to tell which products were sourced within ten miles of their local area, or online delivery services like Abel and Cole, Riverford and Farmdrop. It said it was pleased that industry was embracing technology to meet consumer demand for local produce.
Meanwhile, Au Bout du Champ (‘At the bottom of the field’) was a French initiative selling local food, from fresh fruit and vegetables to juice, cordial and jams, to city-dwelling Parisians in automats. Consumers place their order online, receive a secret code and use this code to open the automat door once their order is ready.
But can food manufacturers also respond to this demand for local – or is local mass-produced food somewhat of an oxymoron?
According to Richard Ford, senior food and drink analyst at Mintel, it might not be commercially viable for a manufacturer to source 100% of a product's ingredients from a specific but sourcing a key ingredient locally or regionally could add value.
“This still provides a talking point and may add a point of difference over and above competitor's products, bearing in mind that price and taste are still key when it comes to sourcing ingredients,” he says.
But committing to sourcing 100% ingredients locally or regionally is not without its risks, Ford says, and inclement weather in 2012 hit cereal harvests in Britain forcing some manufacturers to adjust their production and their local claims.
Producing local does not mean that manufacturers are stuck with carrots and turnips as ingredients, and the trend for local can be combined with demand for exotic ingredients. “Interestingly, we have seen a number of British-grown or manufactured versions of traditionally non-British products launch onto the market in recent years,” said Ford.
Milky's Halum, a British version of halloumi-style cheese and the British Quinoa Company, which has supplied quinoa to Prêt A Manger since 2013.
The same YouGov survey found the top reasons for wanting to buy locally sourced foods were better quality produce (49%) and supporting the regional economy (43%) while 36% cited less food miles as being important.