This autumn sees the 10th anniversary of British Food Fortnight, the national celebration of British food that has become an established feature of the national calendar.
The event, which this year runs from 17 September, has consistently delivered sales increases to those taking part, with some independent retailers reporting sales increases of £400 a day and £2,000 over the two weeks. It is a superb platform for media coverage and customers love supporting it.
In the 10 years since it was set up there have been thousands of British Food Fortnight events around the country and numerous promotions. We have also seen a large volunteer movement educating schoolchildren about food, which has helped increase the uptake of school meals in participating schools. There have been cooking lessons in Sure Start Children’s Centres in some of the most deprived areas of Britain and healthy eating activity in universities. Events have taken place in Wembley Stadium, St Paul’s Cathedral, Harrods, Downing Street and on The Archers. Media coverage is seen or heard more than 300 million times every year.
In all, more than 70 organisations take part, including all the independent retail associations, nine of the largest food service organisations and eight major pub groups. But supermarkets are notable absentees. It beggars belief that they have been so slow to embrace the promotion. They have taken part in snatches but never with any real gusto.
And with all the fanfare about the Royal Wedding, it was concerning that few of the supermarkets’ patriotic promotions focused on British food, when surely this is what it should all have been about.
The economic squeeze is a huge danger to the swell of support for British food that has built up over the past decade. British meat is often more expensive and, unless we give the consumer a very strong reason to buy it, they are going to drift away. This would be a huge shame given the renaissance in our food culture that has taken place since the days of BSE and foot and mouth.
For me, it is imperative to deliver consistently good quality meat to my customers every time they visit. Buying British enables me do this. British meat is produced to some of the highest welfare standards in the world, our producers are working to breed happy, healthy animals, and we need to support them.
The success of my business is intrinsically linked to that of my suppliers. It doesn’t bear thinking where I would be without them.
Restaurants, pubs, canteens and other catering outlets putting imported meat on the menu are not buying the same product for a cheaper price; they are buying a sub-standard product that could eventually harm their business. Consumers are more discerning and ethically aware than ever before.
For those of us championing the ‘Buy British’ message, we can’t rely on labels alone to promote British produce instore. Campaigns like British Food Fortnight are essential to explain to the consumer why they should buy British food.
Yes, as an owner of an independent butchers, I am in competition with the supermarkets. But I still hope that in this the 10th year of British Food Fortnight they do their bit to promote British during the national food celebration.
Peter Heanen owns independent butcher HG Walter