The long road to local sourcing

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The maxim ‘The customer is king’ has always held true in retailing. The problem is ‘the king’ is now more demanding than ever.

In the cut-throat grocery sector the big retailers are fighting for a slice of the growing demand for organic food, as highlighted recently by Justin King, Sainsbury’s chief executive, when he stated that organic food was ‘moving into the mainstream’ with sales up 20 per cent across its 430 organic lines.

Perhaps its the ‘Al Gore’ effect, but the public appears to be more aware of the wholesome attributes of organic foods and at the same time, far more conscious of the environmental impact of the long distance sourcing of produce. Whereas we are all happy to see seasonal vegetables available all year round, the fact this produce is flown in from Spain or North Africa, is starting to impinge on the public conscience. Could that devastating El Nino be the result of my new found love for Spring vegetables in Autumn?

This emerging debate over ‘food miles’ is being mirrored by a campaign on the part of the supermarkets to source locally.

Is this a way for the supermarkets to off-set the damaging aspects of publicity surrounding carbon emissions, or is there a genuine interest and demand by ‘nouveau vert’ consumers keen to do the planet some good? There is certainly a perceived ‘snob value’ in presenting locally procured produce at the dinner table, but whether the public is prepared to pay a premium for this, or to placate its conscience, is another matter.

The unfortunate thing is, despite the apparent logic of reducing ‘food miles’ by sourcing locally, supply chains are constructed to distribute goods on a national basis and are not geared for the complexities that would ensue if local produce were to be delivered locally. Hence there must be a cost consequence.

If local sourcing is to be anything more than just staving off media attention to ‘food miles’ or an impassioned move by consumers to do more good for the planet, we need to look closely at how the supply chain can be better aligned to local supply.

Nick Allen, Editor

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