It’s the time of year for new year’s resolutions, that time when we are all trying to stick to ambitious diet plans and leave old habits in the rear-view mirror. But have you considered how and where you have spent your food shop over the last few months? How will you spend it going forward?
One of our missions this year is to spread the message that local is better – not just for us as a business but for all. We all want to make things better and often the choices we make are not easy, but here are a few reasons why this is the right one.
Diverse high streets
The old adage is true when it comes to our high streets, use it, or lose it. Whether it be an independent high street shop or a farm, such as ourselves, that delivers its own produce, if these businesses don’t retain enough custom, they will simply cease to exist. In a world where Aldi welcomes 130,000 new customers through their doors each week, small businesses are being left behind. We understand, it’s convenient and often budget-friendly – so where’s the drawback? Perhaps the question is not where you want to shop but how you want your local community to look. In 1950 there were around 90,000 greengrocers and butchers, by the year 2000, this number had plummeted to 20,000. Bakeries too have suffered a similar fate, declining from 25,000 to 8,000 over the same period. Not only have we lost the expertise and specialisms these businesses brought but culture too has been decimated. Do any of us really think it's an improvement to change our high streets from vibrant, distinctive neighbourhoods to abandoned, boarded-up thoroughfares we pass through to reach large corporate retail parks?
Keep local economies thriving
Thriving local businesses improve job prospects in their local area, increasing employment for everyone. It’s an economic success story as the revenue this generates tends to lead to higher local spending as well, further boosting the local economy, and the cycle continues. Research shows that £10 spent in your local shop means overall £50 is reinvested into your local economy, as the shop owner or employee is likely to visit the neighbouring shops or spend their money in local cafes or restaurants – keeping your high street prosperous and flourishing.
Reduce your carbon footprint
Supporting small businesses means smaller physical store footprints and carbon footprints than large corporates. Supermarkets stores need large spaces and their physical size generally means they occupy an out-of-town location so consumers must travel and use more fossil fuels to get there than their local corner shop or high street. Can you walk to your local shop and get everything you need? If not, why not have your food delivered? Yes – we know these deliveries are in a van, however, that van on average contains 50-80 households shopping. One vehicle covering that many separate trips to the shop significantly reduces the carbon footprint compared to 50-80 car journeys. In a time when the environment is under threat how to choose to spend your shop is more important than ever.
Packaging is more relevant in food than in other sectors. It is estimated that UK households throw away a staggering 100 billion pieces of plastic a year, this averages 66 items per household per week. We know it’s crazy, that’s a lot of waste! If you take a look in your bin the stark reality is that the vast majority of this waste is food related. This packaging is often necessary for supermarkets as they need to be able to print barcodes on items both to speed up checkout and to enable them to keep large, computerised stock systems. At The Organic Pantry, we don’t bag produce in plastic unless we have to. Some highly perishable products, like spinach and salad leaf, are too fragile to be sent loose in boxes but even when we do have to use a bag, we use biodegradable alternatives. However, this can be returned and reused along with the box that the produce comes in – keeping your bin empty at the same time!
Know your sources
Small businesses typically source from other local independent producers, manufacturers and growers. At The Organic Pantry, we grow our own produce, but what we can’t grow we source as locally as possible. If you just look at the vegetables we offer our biggest suppliers are all close to home. With Newfield’s Farm in North Yorkshire, Poskitts carrots in South Yorkshire, and Royal Oak and Lyncroft farms in Lancashire – we keep things northern! The ripple effect of this is that we are putting money into those small local economies as well as keeping our carbon footprint down. How is this different from the supermarket? You might head for your closest one in Leeds but the potatoes have come from Devon, and have been hauled up the M1, and sorted in a depot in Merseyside before landing in your supermarket branch. Pop down to your local greengrocers and you will probably find their potatoes are from around the corner.
Large national corporations tend to source from one or two suppliers for products because there are not many businesses that can handle their demand. It is generally more efficient to buy from one place rather than source from many and their large purchasing power enables them to keep their prices down. Take the example of veg growing, one supplier monocropping at high volumes is likely to be able to produce that product at a lower cost when compared to a small-scale grower. This is a problematic model on many levels. Setting aside the strong environmental arguments against this type of growing, a farm supplying a supermarket is encouraged to scale up operations, specialise and invest solely in the target product. The customers available to them then become limited to other huge buyers, or other supermarkets. This leaves the farmer with a limited pool of customers who can buy his whole harvest. Supermarkets can take advantage of this predicament to keep prices low because if they walk away, the producer goes out of business.
Feel empowered - every penny you spend is a vote for change
The good thing is there is a simple step you can take to make a difference, and rather than heading to the supermarket or retail park use your local high street. Visit your butchers, your greengrocers and your local farmer’s market. It may take a little longer and may - although not always - cost a little more but you are likely to get better quality goods and the recipient of your custom be a beaming local who is grateful for your shop!