It could be argued that Northern supermarket chain Booths has set the benchmark for local and regional sourcing among retailers within the UK, with Waitrose not far behind it.
Right from the word go the retailer has attempted to sustain a micro-economy within its catchment of Yorkshire, Cumbria, Lancashire and Cheshire, and has succeeded with distinction.
Booths has received plaudits for injecting life into the local hop shoots industry, and fresh produce buyer Chris Treble takes pride in announcing that 100% of the strawberries currently for sale in Booths stores are English. "We have always sourced regionally and locally but it has become more popular in the past eight years," says Treble.
"Local sourcing has received a lot of attention and consumers are a lot more aware of the provenance of products.
"We actively promote crops that are in season to draw attention to them."
Initiatives include having growers in store carrying out tastings for occasions such as British Tomato Week and Bramley Apple Week. It also runs a scheme called Dug This Morning potatoes, which are potatoes that are harvested locally at 1am and available for sale in stores by the morning.
Consumers' heightened sensitivity towards local and regional foods is now reflected in most supermarkets where the 'local' banner has become a familiar sight. Recent initiatives by the retailers to encourage consumers to buy British produce, such as asparagus and strawberries, have also raised awareness of locally-grown food.
However, the lengths to which retailers are prepared to go to promote local produce can vary considerably.
Asda has an active local sourcing scheme that it is continually looking to extend, as does Tesco. One of Tesco's great local
sourcing successes has been with Branston new potatoes. The company supplies the multiple with Cornish and Pembrokeshire new potatoes, as well as Exquisa potatoes, and has recently launched the latest product batch in-store.
Branston account director for Tesco, Jo Parish, says that consumers relish the opportunity to buy local produce and the arrival of Cornish and Pembrokeshire new potatoes is always received with excitement.
"Some areas of the country in particular are extremely loyal to local produce and Cornwall and Pembroke are prime examples," says Parish. "In both Truro and Haverfordwest stores we could barely keep up as the new season crop was put out on display.
"Consumers were keen to ask where the crop came from and who grew it - the feelgood factor when they recognised the name was clearly evident."
Waitrose has embraced local sourcing with its usual zeal and last year launched a branded range of regional produce in 12 stores in East Anglia. The scheme has since been rolled out into Kent and the West Country, Yorkshire and Wales will be on board by the middle of this month, followed by Scotland.
PR manager at Waitrose, Gill Smith says: "Being able to buy high-quality local and regional foods is important to customers. "While consumers, through extensive travel and enjoyable culinary pursuits, demand fruit and vegetables all year round we do enjoy boosted sales when products are in season and our marketing aims to celebrate seasonality."
The government's 5-a-day scheme is probably the most high-profile attempt to encourage people to eat more fruit and veg as part of a healthy diet. But it is not the only one. The Fresh Produce Consortium is posed to launch its own initiative, Eat in Colour, to encourage consumers to experiment.
Potato supplier Redbridge is on the management board for the initiative, and managing director Richard Parke-Davies says the three-year programme aims to garner cross-industry support to complement the government's scheme and nurture consumers' desires for fresh produce.
"Eat in Colour would be a
beneficial programme and the industry should get behind it. It will take 5-a-day a step further, suggesting different fruit and vegetables that consumers could choose to make up a more colourful 5-a-day mix."
Asda, Tesco and Somerfield have pledged funds to the campaign, but so far a lack of money has delayed its start.
There is, however, scepticism surrounding the 'health' tag used by the supermarkets, media and trade associations that undermine the fundamental qualities of fresh produce.
"We seem to have lost the whole enticement of fruit and veg as a staple diet," says Parke-Davies.
"Consumers should be eating fresh produce because it tastes good and not just because it could extend their lives."
Del Monte UK's Peter Miller shares his view but admits that the publicity surrounding health claims can only be good.
"Superfruits are a populist thing," he says. "Consumers are buying into the category because they've been told eating blueberries and pomegranates will help them to live longer.
"It's not entirely bad if it gets consumers experimenting, but it would be preferable to build their reputation for their core attributes."n