Pride in offering fresh, local ingredients has always been part of British culture, but consumers are increasingly looking to simple, home-sourced fare instead of fine-dining, signalling a shift in what we are eating and buying today.
While this change began in eateries, appetite is now growing throughout convenience. From locally-sourced beer, to seasonal turkeys, fresh fruit and vegetables, and organic offerings, independent retailers are looking to exploit differences with the multiples, opening up opportunities to suppliers and wholesalers.
Norfolk retailer Sandra Taylor-Meeds, from Budgens of Holt, has recently concentrated her efforts on building a local range, including meat, seasonal game and fresh produce: “My aim was to become the local shop for local people, and I needed to be changing all the time,” she says. To kickstart the initiative, she had a mock-up farm shop built in her store.
Similarly, in Herefordshire, Hopes of Longtown owner Christine Hope runs social media campaign #shoplocal30, which features goods produced, made or grown within 30 miles of her store.
She says: “We had labels made on items ranging from small batch coffees to garlic breads, highlighting #shoplocal30, which we are promoting through Twitter.”
Many wholesalers have capitalised on the trend by branching out to offer a range of premium goods that, if not local, are steeped in regional heritage. One of those is fine foods distributor Cotswold Fayre. Its new west Berkshire warehouse supplies London and parts of the South-East. The company started 17 years ago, offering exclusively Cotswolds produce, but now, 75% of its SKUs are from the rest of the UK, as well as Ireland.
Chief executive Paul Hargreaves says that while he is not convinced ‘local’ is a main driver for convenience retailers, he has seen a growing shift towards premium, heritage products, which can overlap.
“Our sales in convenience are up 40% this year – it is really growing,” he adds. About a third of the company’s customers are farm shops, and while it steers away from very local products, its catalogue features many items with strong regional ties, such as Cornish clotted cream.
“Convenience stores and farm shops that have a good chilled section are outperforming ambient by three times, so I would advise retailers to add chillers and look to food-to-go,” he says, adding that Cotswold Fayre has just increased its chilled range from 25 to 240 SKUs.
“If a product tastes and looks good and is produced locally, then the customer should buy direct from the supplier. We can then fill in the gaps,” he adds.
Ben McKechnie, managing director at wholesaler Epicurium, also suggests the trend for local is nuanced. Based in County Durham, the company initially distributed products from several small producers in the North-East, but changed tack towards healthy snacks two years ago.
“A few years ago, we tried sourcing local products and supplying them to Nisa stores, but with ambient, it did not work,” McKechnie says. “Farm shops and delis are still the places where local works best, but it is likely to be with fresh and chilled produce such as eggs, milk, meats, cheeses and poultry.”
Where local is thriving is in foodservice, with many eateries continuing to put seasonal produce at the forefront of their menus.
Dan Johns, head chef at The Dog in Wingham, Kent, says he uses small suppliers complemented by Kent-based wholesalers for his ever-changing menu.
“I use local whenever possible,” he notes. “Traceability is important to me, and I want a personal connection with people I buy from. With local, the availability is not always there, but I think that speaks volumes to customers. It says that you are not giving in to mass-produced demand.”