David Richardson: The British food message is getting through

It’s just a gut feeling. But I believe there has, over the past 12 months, been a positive mood swing among consumers towards favouring home-produced food.

If I am right, the realisation that food supplies may not be as secure as thought and that supporting domestic farmers might help ensure their continued production may have had something to do with it. Another reason is the magnificent work done by those who run British Food Fortnight, which this year runs until 5 October.

Conceived by country girl Alexia Robinson seven years ago while on a sabbatical from her London marketing career and while rowing down the Amazon, BFF has been crucial in raising awareness among the food buyers of the nation of the quality and importance of what British farmers produce.

I use the broad phrase “food buyers” deliberately because although householders still ultimately dominate the food market, a growing proportion of bulk buying is by caterers and processors to satisfy the market for eating away from home and for ready meals.

In the past it has been common for such buyers to use the cheapest ingredients without danger of consumer censure. After all, how do you check the provenance of a steak and kidney pie? But British Food Fortnight has even touched their consciences and more and more have now committed to using British ingredients.

This year as well as the usual targets of restaurants, schools and the like, eight of the biggest food service organisations, five big pub groups, hundreds of independent shops and some of the big supermarkets are taking part. Government departments are getting involved, too, including the Cabinet Office, the Department for Culture Media and Sport, the Department for Transport and even HM Revenue and Customs and the Treasury will be putting fresh British food on their menus, as will the NHS.

So, even civil servants should get excited during this fortnight. And it may not stop there. Aramark, one of those food service organisations has announced it is moving towards sourcing nearly all its beef from Britain as a result of involvement in the event.

All of which is a remarkable achievement by a tiny organisation whose funds are limited, but whose energy, ideas and determination are amazing. Those of us who produce the food they promote owe them a huge debt.

But we should not take this for granted. It’s not guaranteed and indeed might be at risk because of the credit crunch and associated crises. Growing numbers of consumers are being forced to control expenditure as never before, including that for food. And never mind the reasons, which I have discussed here many times, British food is not always cheapest.

To check what is available and which supermarkets are selling most British produce visit BFF’s website and click on “Want to buy British”. You’ll find it enlightening.

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