Local produce has become important to many consumers – according to GS1 UK, 63% of consumers claim that they thought about the source of their food some of the time. 16% went as far as to say they thought about it all the time, while three-fifths of shoppers admitted that place of origin was at least as important as other influencing factors, such as price and quality.
For businesses operating in the catering or hospitality industry, those who have started to embrace local produce and take an interest in ‘food miles’ are one step ahead of the game in appealing to the UK’s consumer demand for British food and drink.
Retailers of catering equipment, Nisbets, investigate how consumer's interest in food miles and sustainable products are affecting how chefs source their food and create their menus. Are they willing to appeal to their customers demand, or is it costing too much to source?
What are food miles?
The term food miles refers to the distance that food produce has been transported from point of production until it reaches the consumer. The UK typically rack up quite the distance, with more than half of the UK’s food sourced from overseas. In fact, a huge 95% of all our fruit is imported from abroad, along with half of our vegetables.
We transport the majority of this on our roads too, contributing a large amount of carbon emissions on a daily basis – these journeys actually account for 25% of the UK’s CO2 emissions. Of all goods transported by HGV’s in the UK, 30% is food produce – and the amount of food flown by plane has risen by 140% since 1992. That still only accounts for 1% of food that is transported as well!
What does the industry think?
According to a recent pulse survey by Nisbets, 20% of businesses said they considered consumer demand when changing their menus. With 65% of consumers thinking about the source of their food, local produce and sustainable products could be the next evolving trend – and it seems industry professionals agree. 10% of survey respondents claimed locally sourced produce was having an impact on their company because of the rise in consumer interest. But what does this mean for business costs?
37% of businesses said the cost of ingredients was a big influencing factor when changing their menus. So, what does a potential increase in cost to appeal to the demand for local produce mean for catering businesses? 37% of respondents believe that customer demand was impacting their margin/costs. However, clearly, customer demand is more important to chefs; so, with high costs of ingredients, in particular healthy, organic and locally sourced produce, finding the right balance between the two is the best way to keep control of margin.
Brexit too, could potentially impact the rise in local produce into catering businesses across the UK as the future of importing and exporting produce remains uncertain for now. If the UK lose access to freely imported and exported goods to and from the EU, the industry might have no choice but to convert to local produce – and imported goods could potentially witness an increase in costs too.
In the Nisbets survey, it became apparent that some industry professionals had a positive outlook where local produce was concerned though, with some respondents stating they looked forward to ‘more emphasis placed on buying local’ and ‘better quality local produce’.
Food Industry Sustainability Strategy
The government’s strategy for sustainability throughout the food industry could also have an impact on the rise of local produce. The aim of the strategy is ‘break the link between economic growth and environmental impacts’ – a major shift is needed towards delivering new products and services with lower environmental impacts across their lifecycle. The answer? Fewer food miles and more local produce.
The interest in and knowing about food – where it is from, how it is produced, what effect it has on our health, and how to prepare and store it – are all likely to lead to a better diet that is both beneficial to our health and the environment. With 30% of respondents in the Nisbets survey categorically stating healthy eating as one of the biggest food trends they’ve witnessed in their establishments this year, it suggests we are already contributing to the strategy.
Overall, the industry seems aware of what is driving customer demand right now – and it looks as though this could be a trend that continues through 2018. If the industry continues to focus on customer demand when it comes down to their menus, local produce is likely to become a big influential factor. We could expect to see local produce being used in more restaurants across Britain than in previous years — as a result of both consumer demand and the potential increase of overseas importing costs as a direct result of Brexit.