UK: Consumer habits & the demand for local food
What do UK shoppers want? How do they select which brands to buy? What the people of Great Britain really want is for brands to commit to being more sustainable, to buy more food grown in Britain, and to know where their food has come from.
In this article, LettUs Grow elaborates on the UK consumer habits and demand for local food.
More than half of all shoppers would be happy to pay 19% more for food items, knowing that they were made with British ingredients. The fact that a majority of the public chooses to spend more on local produce is a definitive sentiment highlighting that consumers are progressing towards sustainable lifestyles.
However, there are still some misconceptions held by a proportion of consumers. A study of 2,000 participants, commissioned by British Lion Eggs, revealed that more than 20% of buyers are under the assumption that everything they buy in-store is made in the UK. This emphasizes the pressing need for an increase in transparency between consumers and their food. In fact, 49% of those polled want brands to commit to being more sustainable, and 47% agree that not enough is being done by producers to become more eco-friendly. This consumer demand for locally sourced ingredients does not seem to be a short-term trend, and more businesses in the food industry should leverage this growing interest in provenance and sustainability to their advantage.
Fortunately, in June, we saw the introduction of eco-labels, which are expected to shake up the supply chains and to encourage producers to be more innovative in helping reduce their environmental impact. Products will be graded into tiers marked from A to G and color-coded, with green to document items that are the most environmentally friendly and through to with red for the least.
(Photo 121936825 © Alexander Raths | Dreamstime.com)
Top retailers are to join in an eco-score scheme, developed by NGO Foundation Earth in partnership with Oxford University, ahead of a pilot for its labeling in September. Tescos, Morrisons, PepsiCo, Aldi, Waitrose, Danone, and Starbucks will be supporting Foundation Earth’s eco-labels on their products. In contrast, Lidl has opted for a labeling system developed by the consultancy Etiquettable to be available in October. Similarly, a food technology startup called Foodsteps has formally launched its impact labeling and carbon tracking services to restaurants and caterers. With this many eco-label schemes circulating, however, it may cause some consumer confusion. Nonetheless, these schemes are excellent for raising the transparency of the origins of our food and for raising consumer awareness of the environmental impact of our supply chains.
With this increase in food transparency should also come the realization that a lot of the food we buy in the UK has been flown in from countries around the world. The time has come to acknowledge that, even though agriculture accounts for 72% of the total area of land in the UK, only half the food we consume is produced in Britain. And in terms of fresh produce, the UK is just at 18% self-sufficiency in fruit and 55% in vegetables. This can, in part, be attributed to the nature of the hungry gap, which begins in March, leaving the UK scarce of locally grown fresh produce until June. As a result, just under two-thirds of the fruit and vegetables consumed in the UK are imported from abroad. The delicacy of our food supply networks is increasingly being exposed, urging the need to reflect on how our systems can change for the better.
Controlled environment agriculture (CEA) can certainly play a part in addressing these pressing issues. In CEA farms, the weather does not play a role in the growth of food; using a technology-based approach, crops are cultivated in an enclosure with perfect growing conditions. Because they’re not restricted by the seasons, they can be used to grow fresh produce all year round. This has the potential to positively disrupt the current fresh produce supply chain while conveying benefits to the growers in the process.
Already, there are urban farms in the UK supplying produce to their local areas. Infarm’s latest vertical farming facility’s location in Bedford potentially allows 90% of the UK population to be reached within hours of harvest. If cities can begin to feed themselves, then resilience will be built into the food supply network and help to alleviate potential shocks in the global supply chain. The flexibility that CEA offers is significant and will help to fulfill the increasing desire for sustainability in our food systems.