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From Farm to Fork : Navigating 'Local' in the UK Food & Drink Scene

In recent years, the Local food movement in the UK has experienced remarkable growth. Satista research has revealed the revenue of local shops in the UK has surged by over 30 percent in the past decade[1], while the share of domestic food consumed reached a new high in 2021[1], with 58 percent of all food consumed having a UK origin[1]. It's undeniable that people want their food to be locally sourced, but what exactly does "Local" mean in this context?

Woman paying for groceries in a small store, using a card machine. Male store assistant is smiling whilst holding the card reader

Deconstructing the Notion of "Local"

The term "Local Food" has evolved over the years, and its meaning can vary significantly from one person to another. As you stand in front of the supermarket shelf, comparing options, how can you be sure that the produce you pick up aligns with your personal definition of what is truly "Local"?

This blog post aims to deconstruct the term "local", unraveling common perceptions about it and exploring its multiple meanings.

Consumer Perceptions and Common Terms Associated with "Local"

Shoppers often associate foods labelled as "Locally Produced" with specific characteristics they value. Based on small-scale research conducted by Crop One Holdings[2], terms commonly associated with local foods include "good quality," "carefully grown," "better for the environment," and "recently harvested." Similarly, common terms linked to local farms encompass "small-scale," "doesn't use pesticides," and "sells nearby."

This research underscores the observation that local food and farms hold ideological significance for consumers, transcending mere proximity to a grocery store. This leads to a fundamental question: "If 'Local' doesn't necessarily embody all these attributes, what does it mean?"


Defining "Local" in the UK

In the United Kingdom, there is no legally defined threshold for the term "local" in food labelling. However, the Food Law Code of Practice provides some guidance, stating that "local" should mean sales within the supplying establishment's own county or local authority area, extending to the neighbouring county or local authority area, or within 30 miles (50 kilometers) from the boundary of the supplying establishment's area[3].

But what is "Local" to consumers in the UK? Here are six key aspects of what "local food" signifies in this context:

Regional Emphasis: Local food often centres around products sourced within the same region or county, typically within a radius of around 100 miles from the point of sale. This prioritises shortening the supply chain and supporting local agriculture.

British-Origin Products: For many consumers, "local food" refers to products produced within the United Kingdom. This includes fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy, and other items grown or processed across various parts of the UK.

Seasonal Variability: Local food frequently revolves around seasonal products, reflecting what can be grown or produced in a specific region during different times of the year. This encourages consumers to embrace seasonal eating and support local farmers.

Community Connection: "Local" implies a direct link between consumers and producers. By choosing local food, consumers can bolster their community's economy and cultivate relationships with local farmers and food producers.

Reduced Food Miles: The concept of local food promotes minimising the distance that food travels from farm to table. This not only benefits local businesses but also reduces the environmental impact associated with long-distance transportation.

Cultural Identity: Local food can encompass products with cultural significance to a particular region or the nation. It celebrates the diversity of culinary traditions and specialities within the UK.

 

While the general concept of local food implies products sourced or produced within a short distance of where they are sold, specific interpretations can differ based on the nature of the product. Here's how the term "local food" varies for different product categories in the UK: Fruits and Vegetables: For fruits and vegetables, "local food" often means produce grown within a relatively short radius from the point of sale, typically based on the aforementioned Food Law Code of Practice guidance. Consumers prefer these items to be fresh and in-season, reflecting what can be cultivated in their region.


Meats: When it comes to meats, local food signifies products sourced from farms or producers located within the same county or a nearby area. The emphasis is on supporting local livestock farming and ensuring that the meat is both fresh and sustainably produced.

Dairy Products: Local dairy products include items like milk, cheese, and butter that are produced within a specific county or region. Consumers expect these products to have a shorter supply chain and are often willing to pay more for locally sourced dairy.

Baked Goods: In the realm of baked goods, local food represents bread, pastries, and cakes crafted by nearby bakeries. Consumers appreciate the artisanal qualities and the reduced environmental impact that come with local bakery items.

Seafood: For seafood, local food typically refers to fish and shellfish caught in nearby waters, including rivers, lakes, and coastal areas. Consumers value the freshness and sustainability of locally sourced seafood.


Beers, Wines & Spirits: Beverages like local beers and ciders are typically crafted by microbreweries or distilleries located within a particular region. When it comes to wine and spirits, the notion of "local" can take on a more unique dimension depending on geographical location within the UK.

The wine industry in the UK is a burgeoning one, particularly concentrated in the southern regions, where nearly 1,000 vineyards have sprouted in recent years. In northern England and Scotland, the distinction between one UK wine and another may not be as pronounced, as they are all inherently more local than wines imported from abroad. However, in the southern parts of England, you'll find an abundance of vineyards within a small radius, offering a delightful diversity of homegrown wines. With this in mind, the concept of "local" in southern England will mean something different to the north depending on the proximity of the vineyard, highlighting the nuanced definition of locality within the UK wine industry.


Much like wine, the world of spirits also presents regional variations. This is particularly the case for Whisky, where the majority of distilleries are nestled north of the border in Scotland - but with a growing number successfully emerging in other parts of the UK. This expanding landscape brings a fascinating array of local whisky options to discerning consumers, each one offering a distinct taste of the region it hails from. Whether you're sipping a Scotch from the Scottish Highlands or a whisky from Wales, you're experiencing the craftsmanship and unique characteristics that make local spirits so compelling.

In the realm of local beverages, the concept of "local" is a dynamic one, where it's not just about geographical proximity but also about the rich and diverse flavours, traditions, and innovation that each region contributes.


Preserves and Condiments: Products such as jams, sauces, and condiments are considered local when they are produced by small-scale operations within the same region or county. Consumers prefer the homemade quality and flavours of local preserves.

Eggs: Local eggs are those produced by nearby farms, often implying a radius of around 30 miles or less. Consumers appreciate the freshness and ethical standards associated with local egg production.

Artisanal Foods: Artisanal or specialty foods can encompass a wide range of products, from handmade chocolates to gourmet snacks. Local artisanal foods are produced by small, independent businesses within the region, highlighting unique flavours and craftsmanship.


The beauty of the term "local" is its flexibility. The definition of "local food" may vary depending on product, personal preferences and values - all of which allow consumers to shape their understanding according to their unique perspectives.

 

In Conclusion

The UK's local food movement has witnessed substantial growth, driven by consumer demand for foods with local origins. Yet, "Local" remains a dynamic and relative term, embracing a wide range of meanings. The lack of a strict, universally accepted definition underscores the subjectivity of the concept. To truly grasp what "Local" means, we recommend engaging directly with producers, learning about their specific values, and making thoughtful choices about the food you purchase.

The benefits of local food can encompass a safer, environmentally friendly alternative to a globalised food system, improvements in food security, and the preservation of local culinary traditions. As consumers, we have the power to shape our understanding of "Local" and to support local producers whose values align with our own.

At WeFarmShop, we're passionate about promoting and connecting you with local farmers producers, making it easier to enjoy the many advantages of locally sourced, artisanal food.


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