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Firstly I would like to say thank you to IFE for commissioning IGD, the food and grocery think tank, to conduct this research.  And also to Food From Britain for sponsoring the project.

And now to the research … the local and regional food opportunity. 

With competition driving retailers to search the world for products that give them differential advantage you might question why I am so keen to talk about local and regional foods.

Although people genuinely like to try a wide range of new and different products from around the world, it doesn’t mean they have lost interest in British food - far from it … I firmly believe this is the moment for local and regional food.

Our new research indicates that there is a growing demand for local and regional foods; 70% of people in Britain want to buy them and 49% want to buy more than they do now. 

Local and regional foods are a way to bring innovation and variety.  They maintain our nation’s food heritage and they offer retailers and foodservice operators an opportunity for clear differentiation. 

The challenge to retailers and foodservice operators, no matter how big or small, is to make sure you go out, review and select local and regional produce for your shoppers and customers, because … believe me  …  it is what they want.

For the last four years we have been asking consumers about local and regional food, and when it comes to definition, we get the same response every time.

They believe local is predominantly a measure of distance.  Local foods are from approximately 30 miles away or from within the county.  For consumers, choosing local food is about supporting the local community and economy and it is that what makes the product special.

Distance is not so important if food is labelled as regional.  Regional foods are those … for which there is a unique bond between place and product. 

They reflect the heritage and reputation of the specific region, for example, liner dairies’ Cornish yarg cheese, Plumgarth’s salt marsh lamb, and Newcastle Brown Ale ice cream from Doddington Dairies.

But don’t let definition be the barrier to stocking these foods.  Both these definitions work.  The key  …  is communicating why local and regional foods are special.

I believe there is so much more potential in this sector. 

61% of people say they buy local and regional food today.  But there are some people who think they are missing out – one in ten [9%] say they can’t buy them at the moment.  But they would like to buy them if they were available.  I’ll talk about some of the things that stop them in a moment, but let’s look at the numbers –

70% of people in Britain want to buy local and regional food.

And 49% - every second person – want to buy more than they do now.  These needs are currently unmet but there are significant opportunities to fill the gap. 

With such a groundswell of support you need to take notice.

If industry works together, with support from the regional food groups, there is the opportunity to make sure people can buy the local and regional foods they want.

And the people who want local and regional foods are not just going to farmer’s markets or farm shops; they are the people walking through your doors everyday of the week.

Important for all retailers and suppliers is where people want to buy local and regional food.  It is probably not what you think.  Interestingly,  73% of shoppers who want to buy local and regional food expect it in their supermarket.

We all know about the importance of convenience nowadays.  Buying from the supermarket overcomes the problems of restricted opening hours at a farm shop or forgetting when the farmers’ market is running.

60% of people looking local and regional food currently seek out a specific local area in store.  Shoppers are now familiar with specific products areas – like organic – and many people think local and regional deserves one too. 

This doesn’t have to be big area … but if it is a special product people expect to look in a special place.

There is also clearly a role for specialist outlets, such as butchers, farmers’ markets and farm shops.  People expect to buy local and regional food through these channels as well.  But with only around one in four of local buyers currently using these outlets there is clearly room for further growth.

And these smaller outlets can learn from the supermarkets.  If people want to buy local meat from their local butchers then why not make sure there are locally produced accompaniments as well – make sure the products are where people are shopping. 

There are two other areas where I think there is an unmet need.

The convenience sector.  22% of shoppers want local and regional food in convenience stores.  Local and regional foods offer independents and symbol groups new opportunities in this competitive market. 

This trend stretches beyond retail.  10% want to see local and regional foods on restaurant menus.

So I’ve talked about who wants to buy local and regional, and where they want to buy it, so what’s behind this demand.

There are three broad factors driving growth in this sector

Firstly. The product quality

  • freshness
  • reputation
  • integrity. 

Local and regional food is aspirational – it offers the rural ideal – the “home grown” and the “home made” that most people no longer do themselves

Secondly.  Sustainability – it supports the local economy and small producers … consumers believe it puts something back in to society.

Thirdly.  It adds interest to the shopping experience, engaging shoppers with the products they buy. 

Equally however, there are three significant barriers to this market.

One.  Lack of awareness. 

Some people are simply unaware that local food exists, where to buy it, and don’t know if it is available in their supermarket

Two.  Availability

Some believe they cannot rely on the availability of local and regional food - they don’t know if their favourite stall will be at the farmers’ market or if seasonal items will be available.

Three.   Access

Finally, some people believe they don’t have practical access to places selling local food.  This may be because they think the only place to buy it is the farmers’ market which only runs when they are at work or it may be that they expect it to be out of their price range. 

But something else that may surprise you,  

People currently buying local and regional food are the most critical and have the highest standards.

For example 41% of those buying these products think they are too expensive compared to 23% of non-buyers.  And 11% of those buying think they can’t rely on the product being available but this is an issue for only 3% of non-buyers.

The local food and regional food sector must work hard not only to build but also to maintain market share. 

Whilst some of these are challenges for the long term, they can be overcome. 

I believe it is a tragedy that people are missing out on these fantastic products simply because we – the industry – are not making them easy enough to find.

If you are a retailer, it is not enough simply to source local and regional foods.  To be successful these products need a high profile in-store.  Why?

Purchases tend to be on impulse – people are not necessarily planning to buy local and regional – the products need to shout above the noise. 

So what are people buying?

Currently, fruit and vegetables are the most popular, followed by bread, eggs and red meat.  But local and regional food is so much more than primary produce.  You just need to look around the exhibition today.  I’ve seen some great examples this morning of innovation in the local and regional sector.  

Such as Purbeck Dairy and their chilli red ice cream, Shropshire Rocks and their mineral water ice cubes and Bare Earth’s biltong, a speciality dry-cured meat snack handmade in North Yorkshire with Yorkshire Dales beef

And this is where i believe there is a huge opportunity for growth.

When seven out of ten people want to buy local there are so many opportunities for growth in almost every category.

The two best placed to lead this are cheese and cooked meat products, where future demand exceeds current behaviour.   But these are by no means the only areas. 

Just like people demand the convenience of local and regional food in the supermarket they want quick and easy meals at home.   For example, there is a great company called UK Countrylife that produces great quality ready meals made from locally sourced ingredients.  The customer knows the provenance of the entire meal.

The challenge is stretching people’s imagination and making sure they know about the fabulous producers out there.

Booths Supermarkets launched the artisan restaurant in November 2005.  The concept is an exciting move for booths.  Small producers, even those who do not currently supply a supermarket chain will be able to benefit from the ability to 'showcase' their products.

We all have a role in this – retailers, suppliers, foodservice, and the regional food groups.  and whilst responsibility is shared, so are the gains from raising people’s interest.

So, these are challenging times.  I’m not suggesting that future success is going to be easy – but the momentum is already there.

Each product must be right.  it will not succeed just because it is local.

Those buying local and regional foods are clearly a discerning group of shoppers, with high standards and expectations.  They strongly support buying local and regional foods but they will not tolerate products that fall below their standards. 

Local and regional foods are a way to bring much needed innovation into the industry.  They maintain our nation’s food heritage – something we should be proud of - and they offer retailers an opportunity for clear differentiation. 

My advice for suppliers is to keep close to the consumer and show buyers there is a demand for your product.  To retailers and foodservice - keep an eye on the local food market, track who and what is stimulating local interest in these products and help them flourish.

Some fantastic products are already there.  The passionate suppliers are there.  Consumer demand is there.

Joanne Denney-Finch OBE, Chief Executive IGD