Morrisons is starting a search for the best local food producers who can help to feed the nation, as a new report calls for the UK to be more self-sufficient in food production and new consumer research shows a growing appetite from British shoppers for more local food.
‘The Nation’s Local Foodmakers’ will see Morrisons recruit more than 200 new suppliers from across England, Scotland and Wales in the first year. Morrisons is inviting foodmakers to pitch for their place in its supermarkets via a series of 12 regional events starting in Yorkshire on 14th March.The move comes as a new report published by leading experts on global food issues led by Professor Tim Benton, from the University of Leeds, says that only half (52%) of food eaten in the UK comes from our farmers.
In the British Food report, Professor Benton says that in light of uncertainties globally it makes increasing sense to build up a stronger local food sector here in the UK and calls on British retailers, producers and customers to recognise the wider benefits of supporting UK food making and production. The main conclusions are:
There are risks – climate change and trade wars – in ‘too much’ reliance on food produced elsewhere and these could increase over time. The rapid increase of global goods trading over the past 3 decades means we now export £18bn of food whilst importing £39bn. Whilst global trade has a place and the UK can never be entirely self sufficient buying more food locally will increase our resilience to these risks.
British customers have an appetite to buy more local food because they believe it to be more trustworthy, and that it supports their local communities. This is supported by new research from Morrisons which shows that British consumers are open to this shift with more than two thirds (67%) of UK shoppers stating in an omnibus survey of 2,000 adults a preference to buy British with the remainder expressing no preference. Supporting local foodmakers will have wider benefits for the nation and the British countryside. It will support the local economy, maintain a thriving agricultural sector, create greater diversity of farm types producing more diverse foods, benefiting the countryside. It will also potentially produce food more efficiently and transparently, increasing our trust in it.
We used to grow a greater range of crops. The UK has seen a decline in the indigenous produce grown here with orchards, for example, now accounting for 25,100 hectares compared to 113,000 hectares 50 years go. The report also points to periods where production of cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, peas, parsnips, cabbage, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, rhubarb and pears grown in the UK have decreased with French and runner beans down by as much as 49%.
The programme will see Morrisons buyers tour Great Britain in search of the best local producers to supply its 491 stores nationwide. The company has a priority of sourcing more local food and is keen to reduce the distance that food travels.
Morrisons will also be working with members of the Women’s Institutes in their communities around the UK, using their local knowledge and expertise to source and select the best suppliers in their area. The search will result in more customers being able to buy more food in a British supermarket that was grown, made, picked or packaged within 30-60 miles of their local store,
Andy Higginson, Chairman of Morrisons, said: “Our customers tell us they want to see more food that is made just down the road from their own communities and that’s why we are looking for the next generation of British and local foodmakers to serve our 12 million customers.
“We want small UK food suppliers to become bigger ones – the Innocent Smoothies of tomorrow – and we also want to give our customers the option of more food that meets their local food tastes.”
“Morrisons is already British farming’s biggest single customer and the publication of the report today from Professor Benton makes us more determined to produce more of our food and source more from local British suppliers.” Suppliers will be asked to apply through a new website www.morrisons.com/local. Selected applicants will be invited to an event in their region where they will be able to showcase their food to customers, Morrisons staff and Women’s Institute members as well as Morrisons buyers, who will decide who is selected to take their place in Morrisons supermarkets.
Morrisons is in a unique position to support British foodmakers because as well as operating 491 supermarkets, Morrisons is the UK’s largest fresh food maker.