Local food networks ‘under siege’ from big retailers

Local food networks are under-recognised and poorly supported – despite being critically important to high streets, local economies and our much loved landscapes.

These are the findings of From field to fork: The value of England’s local food webs a report by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE). The report, published on Monday (11 June), shows that local food offers a great opportunity to support vibrant town centres and the countryside.

However, the role of local food is being undermined by the dominance of superstores, supermarkets and multiple retailers.

CPRE said 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, said: “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.”

The research looked at 19 locations across England and identified more than 2,500 local food businesses (800+ outlets and 1,700+ 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.

“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.”
Graeme Willis

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% of all main shopping trips in the locations studied.

Mr Willis said: “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.”

CPRE Recommendations for Local Food web

The CPRE is pressing for more to be done to support local food networks and grow their economic, social and environmental benefits.

In particular, the CPRE recommends:

  • Government should re-examine competition policy to support retail diversity and the ability of new local food entrepreneurs to enter the market
  • 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 to reinforce consumer awareness and trust.
  • Community groups should develop and engage in initiatives to shape their local food networks

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