Marks & Spencer has become the latest food retailer to react to growing consumer enthusiasm for local food and concerns over climate change.

Following the lead of other major retailers, such as Tesco with its Community Plan and Sainsbury with its Supply Something New initiatives, M&S will now stock more local produce.  However, it is yet to explain how it will source this produce.

The decision also adds weight to Farmers Weekly’s Food Miles campaign which sought to prompt retailers in to supporting British farmers by raising consumer demand for local and fresh produce and by demanding action to curb climate change by reducing the amount of needlessly imported food.

Stuart Rose, M&S chief executive, launched ‘Plan A’ a £200m ‘eco-plan‘ initiative which will see all the retailers food imported by air freight labelled with ‘flown’ and, where possible,  increase the amount of food sourced from the UK and Ireland.

By 2012 M&S hopes to:

• become carbon neutral
• send no waste to landfill
• extend sustainable sourcing
• set new standards on ethical trading
• help customers and employees live a healthier lifestyle

“We will clearly label the food we import by air; UK, regional and local food sourcing will be a priority and we will trial the use of food waste to power our stores.  We will do this without passing on the extra cost to our customers,” said Mr Rose.

As part of its plan to minimise its contribution to climate change the retailer is:

*Committing to buy as much food from Britain and Ireland as possible, double regional food sourcing within 12 months and grow our existing local supply networks.  In addition, we will minimise the amount of food we air freight as well as labelling the food we import by air as ‘flown’.

The retailer also committed to using 50% bio-diesel in all its lorries.

M&S was advised on its new plan by former Friends of the Earth director Jonathon Porritt.

“This plan raises the bar for everyone else – not just retailers but businesses in every sector,” said Mr Porritt. 

Farmers Weekly Food Miles campaign director Julian Gairdner said:

“Not only did our Food Miles campaign help raise the issue of food miles amongst consumers , but it also highlighted the benefits to all – retailers, consumers and farmers – of buying locally produced food to save the environment and the rural economy.”

He added: “We believe there is a real opportunity for retailing innovation to benefit the environment and British producers which could include:

• Clear in-store promotion of local food
• Evidence of support for local producers
• Country of origin labelling of all foods, including distance travelled
• Even a food miles totaliser on all till receipts and innovation to customers for local supplier loyalty.”

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