Today marks the beginning of British Food Fortnight and for the first time Budgens will be sponsoring it. The organisers approached us at the beginning of this year because they were alert to everything we were already doing to support British agriculture. In their own words, they saw us as an excellent example of how retailers can play a powerful role in making quality food and drink easily accessible to the consumer.
British Food Fortnight shares our views and passion for quality, seasonality and regionality. Many of our stores are in rural locations, where agriculture is the major employer, so it is only fitting that we support the rural economy.
Everyone likes the idea of locally produced, locally distinct food. But because of the consolidation of the retail market, there are increasingly few routes to market and it is particularly difficult for small, regional producers to cut through.
The local shop has traditionally provided an outlet for such producers. Smaller, independent stores need local products because they bring a point of difference and more reasons for shoppers to use them.
The whole ethos and the key driver of our business - and that of our owner Musgrave - is to revive the local, neighbourhood store and support the independent sector, ensuring its viability in the face of a genuine threat from the major multiples.
As we all know, the major suppliers generally offer hugely favourable terms to the multiples, which means smaller chains and independents just cannot match prices on the key brands and most staple products.
It’s all part of a bigger, depressing picture. The more dominant the big supermarkets become, the fewer options there are for consumers in terms of where they shop and the variety available. People need a reason to go elsewhere - they need quality alternatives. Yet small, family-run stores are forced out of business by the multiples, communities are losing their heart and spirit, high streets look the same and thousands of villages have lost their local shop.
Our own consumer research, however, is telling us that people prefer to shop locally and that they would buy local products if they could get them. For this reason we have historically supported British farming. This is not just a bandwagon we’ve jumped on. When the French banned English beef five
years ago, we took all French apples and pears off our shelves and have never put them back. Of course we sell imported products, but it is our policy to source British wherever there is a quality product at a price that also offers value to the consumer.
For example, our fresh meat has been solely British for years and earlier this year we made the decision to move to 100% English meat, as all our stores are in England. We could import pork far more cheaply but we are sticking to our commitment and our customers are prepared to support this decision. Although there are cheaper options we sell only English strawberries when they are in season and we invest heavily in promotional support.
Because of our size, versatility and regional sourcing strategy we can help smaller producers, working directly with them or through the regional produce marketing boards to agree ranges that will appeal to our customers.
For example, we have sponsored the Taste of the West Awards for five years. Through Tastes of Anglia we offer more than 50 local products to all our stores in the region. We work with family-run Newitts, an award-winning speciality butcher and deli operator from Thame, similarly, we can offer the Weald Smokery near our store in Hawkhurst, Kent, a wider distribution network for its products.
And it isn’t only suppliers like these who benefit. In conjunction with Business in the Community, Budgens is holding a series of seminars for small producers.
Local, independently owned shops with local produce make a lot of sense. As local food champion and chef Rick Stein says: “Local food gives you a sense of belonging.”