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New national report finds local food is recipe for economic success

Monday, 11 June 2012 00:00

A major new national report finds that despite their critical importance to the health of our high streets, local economies and much loved landscapes, local food networks are under-recognised and poorly supported.

The report is the culmination of a 5-year research project ‘Mapping Local Food Webs,’ supported by the Big Lottery Fund [1]. It demonstrates that local food offers a great opportunity to support vibrant town centres and countryside, but that its role is undermined by the dominance of superstores and the multiple retailers. The report presents a fundamental challenge to superstores and the damage they are doing to local food webs.

Graeme Willis, Senior Food Campaigner for CPRE, says: “In setting out to map local food webs we hoped to measure the fantastic contributions these networks make. We achieved just that, finding great examples of local food webs helping to buck national trends of high street decline.

“But we have also found that the rise of out-of-town supermarkets and insufficient leadership from Government over many years have left many local food webs under siege. Action must be taken to support them, and revitalise our high streets and local economies.”

Download the full report (http://bit.ly/KVMQgN), key local food facts (http://bit.ly/LajIRR), and see all the local food maps generated by the research (http://bit.ly/Ke5UZU).

The report: ‘From field to fork: The value of England’s local food webs’, found that across England local food outlets serve an estimated 16.3 million customers a week and that local food sales through independent outlets are worth  £2.7 billion a year to the economy [2]. These food outlets support over 100,000 jobs (FT and PT), of which over 61,000 are attributable directly to local food sales [3].

CPRE has gathered a number of case studies that show the tremendous contribution local food can make to local communities: http://bit.ly/KOK79d

Graeme Willis continued: “Local food webs are essential to the character and attractiveness of towns and countryside across England. With around 50p in every £1 we spend in shops spent on food [4], it is a tremendous opportunity for businesses, from farms to retailers of all sizes, to engage shoppers in making a difference to the quality of their local area.”

The research looked at 19 locations across England and identified over 2,500 local food businesses (800+ outlets and 1700+ producers). The CPRE report shows how local food webs support diversity, distinctiveness and innovation in the food and farming sectors, broaden choice for shoppers, promote seasonality, reduce food miles and shape the character of towns and countryside.

But these local food webs are under threat. The large weekly supermarket shop has increasingly displaced food from marketplaces and town centres and weakened or closed vital outlets for local food. Notwithstanding the value of local food, CPRE found that national supermarket chains dominated grocery spending, accounting for 77 per cent of all main shopping trips in the locations studied [5].

As supermarket chains have expanded their share of the market, their stores have grown in size and have moved out of town: from just under 300 superstores and hypermarkets in 1980 to 1,500 by 2007 [6]. The number is still growing : by late 2011, applications had been submitted or permission granted for a reported 44 million square feet of new supermarket development, equivalent to 572 football fields, 80 per cent of it out-of-town [7].

This growth has weakened town centres and the rich variety of food stores that supported them as shopping destinations. There has been a collapse in traditional specialist food stores, such as butchers and greengrocers, from around 120,000 in the 1950s to 18,000 in the late 2000s [8]. Town centre vacancy rates now average 14 per cent and can be as high as 30 per cent [9].

The effect on jobs can be severe: in 1998 the National Retail Planning Forum examined the effects on employment following the opening of 93 edge-of-town supermarkets and found a net average loss of 276 jobs in each area [10].

CPRE’s research found that, more than any other factor, the presence of large food stores, particularly out of town, and the absence of smaller independent outlets, are the decisive factors in the strength of any local food web. The charity will be making a new toolkit available for local campaigners to explore the benefits of and challenges their local food web faces, including the impact of new superstores [11]. The first group to do this has already started in Bishop’s Waltham, Hampshire.[12] 

Graeme Willis continued: “Our research shows that the presence of supermarkets is not an insurmountable obstacle to vibrant local food networks – but their number, scale and location is critical. Moderately sized supermarkets, well- located and well-connected with town centres, can draw shoppers and support a centre’s overall vibrancy and attractiveness. However, if local food networks are to thrive, they need sustained support from individuals, the community, business and policy-makers locally and nationally.”

Building on the huge amount of new data gathered in this report, CPRE is pressing for much more to be done to support local food networks and grow the economic, social and environmental benefits they bring. In particular, CPRE recommends:

 

  • Government should re-examine competition policy to support retail diversity and the ability of new local food entrepreneurs to enter the market; develop national planning policy guidance to provide stronger support for a sustainable food system; improve the ability of the planning system to ensure the vitality of town centres, as Mary Portas recommended in her recent high street review; and provide strong leadership on sustainable food procurement.
  • Local authorities and other public bodies should form partnerships to develop food strategies and action plans; local planning authorities should update their local plans and include policies to support local food webs.
  • Businesses should work together to promote awareness, access, affordability and availability of local food.
  • Supermarket chains should set themselves demanding targets for stocking and selling local food in ways which reinforce consumer awareness and trust.
  • Community groups should develop and engage in initiatives to shape their local food networks – case studies in the report and CPRE’s local food web mapping toolkit offer a range of ideas on this.
  • And every one of us can support local food through our shopping choices, asking questions about where food comes from, and how it is produced. Many shoppers interviewed were able to source around 30% of their food from within 30 miles: we recommend people try a 30:30 diet for a month and find out more about their local food.


End

Notes to Editors
[1] Mapping Local Food Webs is a national project led by CPRE, supported by Sustain, and funded from 2007 to 2012 by the Big Lottery through the Making Local Food Work programme. The project has engaged people in researching their own local food web in up to three towns and cities in each of the eight English regions. Aided by 260 local volunteers, CPRE has been working to map the food webs around 19 towns and cities across England. 11 location reports have already been launched. A further 8 reports are being launched during 2012.
[2] CPRE, ‘From field to fork: The value of England’s local food webs’, 11 June 2012, http://bit.ly/KVMQgN
[3] see 2, page 37
[4] see 2, Institute of Grocery Distribution (IGD), 2012, UK Grocery retailing, 17 April http://www.igd.com/index.asp?id=1&fid=1&sid=7&tid=26&cid=94
[5] see 2, page 38; survey of 1500+= shoppers across 13 locations [7] see 2, page 12 And endnote 22
[6] see 2, page 12 and endnote 25
[7] see 2, page 22 and endnote 91
[8] see 2, page 13 see endnote 31
[9] see 2, page 13
[10] See page 38 and endnote 139; The results showed that over a four-year period, there had been a net loss of 276 jobs in a 10-mile radius of each of the supermarkets, equivalent to a national total loss of over 25,000 jobs. This study did not include florists, clothes shops and newsagents, suggesting far greater actual jobs losses.
[11] MLFW Toolkit
[12] See BBC News report: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-hampshire-18159555

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