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Since Covid-19 struck, selling food products online is no longer a niche industry. Companies both large and small are investing in e-commerce and delivery mechanisms.
As this industry expands, supermarkets are grappling to provide the fastest service. Amazon has normalised next-day, and even same-day, delivery. One survey by Digital Commerce 360 and Bizrate Insights found that 68% of consumers said fast shipping would lead them to place an online order.
But is this quick turnaround really sustainable? Lasse Hansen, founder of ethical online grocery 44 Foods, says it isn’t. “The need for same-day delivery when it comes to fresh food results in a woefully wasteful industry, with chilled goods being kept in bulk in huge warehouses awaiting orders – meaning when the goods get to the customer they have a significantly reduced shelf life, and many products simply never make it out of the warehouse before going out of date,” he explained.
Lasse told Speciality Food that he wants to break shoppers out of the ‘fast, cheap food’ culture we’re in, and remind people that food takes time and vital resources to produce. “It’s unethical and unsustainable to expect to have it at our fingertips 24-7,” he said.
“There’s no way to cut corners with good food. We want to re-educate our customers about the fact that good food is not a quick, cheap, throwaway commodity, but is often the product of months of hard work, with real people in the background, struggling to make a living with prices squeezed down in a highly-competitive industry.”
Supermarkets have taught customers to buy fresh produce, meat, fish and dairy for low or ‘special offer’ prices without a second thought to where it came from, how it got there, or why it’s being sold at such a low price. Not only does this devalue the food, but it leads to a culture of food waste, Lasse said.
What does a more sustainable food supply chain look like? “It’s all about being fair and ethical at every step of the way, which in turn leads to greater sustainability,” Lasse said. “We allow our producers to set their own prices, meaning they’re being paid properly for what they produce, allowing their business to be viable.”
44 Foods is also happy to offer ‘slow deliveries’. “We’re proud to say we have a four-day order time for our deliveries to reach our customers. This allows the farmers and producers we work with to carefully select the best, freshest goods as and when they are ordered – meaning customers get the best shelf life possible on products. It also means we’ve not got delivery vans roaming the country seven days a week, needlessly adding to CO2 emissions – and we’ve not got fresh food hanging around and spoiling in a warehouse.”
In localised areas, faster deliveries can be less damaging to the environment. Ros and Jamie Randall started up Cooks Larder, an online food shop, after arriving back in the UK from 12 years in Australia and noticing supermarkets lacked variety and local products.
“When we founded Cooks Larder, we set out to make the food and drink sourced from local farmers, producers, and artisans readily available to the people of Yorkshire delivered directly to your doorstep,” Ros told Speciality Food.
Promoting sustainability by using local, seasonal produce and reducing food miles from farm to fork became an overriding goal. “Over 70% of our produce is sourced from Yorkshire. We believe eating seasonally provides the best tasting produce but also provides a more sustainable future for local farming and the local food community,” Ros explained.
Not only does utilising local suppliers keep the Yorkshire farming community strong, but it also benefits the environment – and the quality of the food. “A number of customers have commented on how the vegetables are fresher and tastier when in season. The main reason is that most of our produce is from fork to table in a matter of days from local producers rather than kept in cold storage with the large supermarkets or flown from overseas. The same with our meat and fish. The price might be slightly higher but the quality of the produce is 10 times better,” Ros said.
Cooks Larder is currently looking into for more ways to boost its sustainability efforts, including offering reusable jute bags for products and refillable jars for larder essentials, as well as offering recipe ideas for seasonal products.
By focusing on the food and the suppliers first rather than satisfying a demand for convenience over everything, independent retailers are offering better quality food while supporting local communities and the environment.
Kick-start your business’s sustainable journey with tips from the experts at our FREE webinar, The Sustainable Pound: Why & How To Boost Your Eco Credentials, on 13th October.