Supermarket sweep

Why are our supermarkets not stocking more British produce?

We as a nation like to support our local farmers, or do we just think we do? The supermarkets definitely know we like to think so, but how far do they go to make us feel as though we are?

Not that long ago, Tesco and M&S were found to be misleading their consumers by using British sounding farm names to brand produce that was coming in from all over the world, now Waitrose have even fallen foul, recently having to rebrand their New Zealand Lamb hot pot from British to Classic. While we may be forgiven for falling into these small-print traps set by the supermarkets, hiding their food’s sources in plain sight, but the fact remains our reliance on foreign imports has never been more obvious. The courgette crisis, or salad shortage has put our slightly dubious need for non-seasonal or local items into the spotlight.  While New Zealand Lamb competes in an open market with British Lamb (only made competitive by New Zealand’s farming practices of leaving their sheep to largely fend for themselves), the same can’t be said for courgettes in January, which cannot be grown for profit in this country over winter.

While we buy these products, the supermarkets will continue to find the most reliable and cheapest ways with which to fulfil our need. We export about half the amount of food we import, but even if we were to keep the lot, we wouldn’t be able to sustain our growing population on locally produced food. Could we get a bit nearer to self-sufficiency though? Well, as we pointed out with the food shortages from Southern Europe recently, we can, but not without thinking and shopping a little differently. The supermarkets are looking to increase their mix of British suppliers, as the Euro exchange aswell as unpredictable market forces make having so many of their eggs in a European basket a more risky proposition, but will they be able to sell a parsnip over a courgette in the depth of winter?  The growers are clearly ready to rise to the challenge with British cucumbers almost ready for sale already, but how much have they had to heat their tunnels just to achieve it, and should we not say we can just manage without?

The celebrity chefs have helped to make cooking from scratch something that most people can manage, but this in itself is a double-edged sword, with people now reliant on a specific recipe that needs to be followed to the letter. Perhaps we need to go back to the “Ready, Steady, Cook” message that you cook with what you are presented with, rather than seeking out specific ingredients at any cost? Perhaps Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall or Jamie Oliver are preparing a television series on this basis as we speak…? Hugh? Jamie?

We can all do our bit by checking the small print and supporting British growers whenever and wherever we shop.. Who knows, soon we might need them more than they need us?

To see what’s available in our boxes this week, visit our shop


Box Local – the local produce delivery service for St Albans. Bringing the farm shop to your door