In many ways, every fortnight is about British food for us. We pride ourselves on the fact that more than 70% of our sales (by value) are British-produced and we'll certainly be shouting this even louder during British Food Fortnight between 23 September and 8 October.
From a consumer's perspective British food has never looked this good. Not long ago, the average village pub served pickled eggs and pork scratchings, now we're rather spoiled by the amount of great food available. We care more about what we eat than ever and the cult of the celebrity chef pervades our screens and magazines. The qualities of fresh, local produce are understood and celebrated. We are living in the renaissance of British food.
Yet, from the food producer's perspective the outlook is rather bleaker. Some sectors are thriving (speciality cheeses, for example) but many are under serious pressure from foreign imports and aggressive supermarket price wars. Liquid milk is the most obvious example, but it is far from the only one.
One big reason is political. The world's governments, for many good reasons, encourage increased international trade but the environmental cost is often overlooked.
A striking example is fuel duty. Aviation fuel, also the fuel oil used by ships, carries no duty at all, whereas domestic road fuel is taxed at more than 70%.
A direct consequence is that imports are unfairly subsidised; it can cost more to transport food a few hundred miles within the UK, than to fly it half way around the world. This is absurd and is causing severe market distortion.
Despite this, there are areas where retailers can make all the difference. But why should they? We all face margin targets and stiff competition. It is not for us to right the wrongs of the world. The answer is it makes good business sense. British food sells better. Or, more specifically, local food sells better. If any readers are unconvinced, watch me place a sign above our asparagus saying 'Picked at 7 this morning by George Morrell in Knaresborough' and see the stuff fly out of the door.
British Food Fortnight's research shows that sales of products marketed specifically as British or local have increased by up to 30% during the national promotion and that 84% of new British lines stocked have been retained afterwards.
Sourcing British produce, let alone local, requires research and careful selection. It is rarely more expensive but does involve building relationships with new, perhaps smaller suppliers and, in some instances, creating supply chains where none existed. This is not easy and needs more imagination than stocking shelves with mass-produced, bland international brands.
British or local food also gives a reason to feel good about purchases and to shop in your store. All else being equal, consumers will choose it in preference to imported product. Many understand that by eating local produce you not only get the best tasting, fresh food, you also help sustain the wonderful farming landscapes of England and reduce the cost to the environment.
British Food Fortnight is the ideal opportunity to inform your customers. I think you will find the message is well received. Go to www.britishfoodfortnight.co.uk