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In 2019, only 40% of adult consumers planned to buy more from local shops, but that number had risen to 60% by 2020, according to data from Statista. By limiting travel and boosting home working, the pandemic gave consumers an opportunity to grow their relationship with local retailers and food suppliers – and many liked what they found.
Indeed, Local Data Company has reported a rise in the number of independent businesses opening their doors on Britain’s high streets today. This has helped reduce the number of vacant shops on high streets during the fourth quarter of 2021 for the first time since 2018.
Crimple, a family-run independent business in Yorkshire, is one shop that has benefitted from the resurgence of local shopping. Crimple opened a brand new restaurant and foodhall in November 2021, and from the start, supporting local has been its goal. Opening mid-pandemic meant it had its share of challenges, but Keren Shaw, operations director, said the business has been “overwhelmed with support since the launch”.
Not only do customers want to feel safe while shopping today – recent research from Lumina Intelligence revealed that the emergence of the Omicron variant sparked a revival in local shopping – but they also want to know more about their food, where it’s grown and how it’s packaged – and local retailers like Crimple offer shoppers the insight they desire.
“People get the feel-good factor when they know they are supporting an individual or family business, versus huge corporate companies,” Keren told Speciality Food. But, she added, “Ultimately it comes down to taste, quality, and value. The locally produced products have to tick all three boxes to keep customers coming back for more.”
Thanks to local food’s sustainable and ethical credentials, it is little wonder its popularity continues to rise. “Changing ingrained shopping habits is really hard to do,” Keren continued, “but with our fantastic suppliers and quality produce, we know we can offer something different to other local stores.”
And with sustainability becoming a more important consideration for shoppers, the local shopping trend isn’t going anywhere. “We know that customers are becoming increasingly conscious of their carbon footprint. Reducing food miles is certainly one way to do that, whilst buying quality, local produce made right here in Yorkshire. From Yorkshire pasta to locally brewed beers, many of our neighbours stock our shelves,” she explained.
“We’ve also placed a huge focus on our vegan and free-from range, keeping in line with consumer demand,” Keren said. In fact, the latest data from YouGov reveals that vegans make up 6% of the adult population in Britain, while Mintel has found around half of the population is limiting their meat intake.
Non-vegans are also drawn to supporting local producers, however, as the rise of the ‘buy British’ movement has demonstrated. “Knowing where our food comes from is becoming so important,” Keren added.
As demand for locally produced food grows, recent research has shown that in Britain there is vast potential for smaller-scale producers to meet it. A study by Lancaster University found that Britain could grow up to eight times its current production of fruit and vegetables if all available urban and under-used green spaces were turned to allotments. This could have a multitude of benefits, including cutting the amount of produce that is shipped in from overseas and promoting shorter food supply chains. “Even if you just put a small amount of it to use, you can boost fresh fruit and vegetable availability by a meaningful amount,” said Jess Davies, principal investigator of the study.
With demand for local food on the rise, there is reason to be optimistic about the role independent retailers will play in the years to come.