The Pros and Cons of Buying Food Locally

Home-grown is considered the right way to buy seasonal produce, but with 60% of U.K consumed food being imported, why is local seasonal produce seen as the way to go?

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Supermarkets are stacked to the rafters with imported fruit and veg. Without the right incentives, it can be difficult to cast one’s gaze back to good ole’ locally grown seasonal produce.

The right incentives come in the form of the right information. 

This article looks beyond the stream of supermarket lowest-price advertising for imported foods, highlighting the economic and environmental benefits, as well as the pitfalls of choosing locally sourced seasonal produce.

The term local is open to interpretation. As a consumer, you know your local area and what is available to you within it.

For the sake of this article, we refer to local as being within your county, and most definitely seasonal produce growers and retailers that only operate within the U.K. 

Benefits of Buying Local food

There is a multitude of benefits to buying locally sourced seasonal produce:

  • Riper, tastier foods
  • Supports U.K farm workers 
  • Strict food quality regulations

A visit to the supermarket produce section often ends in a sea of green bananas and rock-hard avocados.

Local seasonal produce doesn’t spend long in transit, and so can be grown to maturity. This means riper fruit and veg for you.

Along with helping yourself to better tasting produce, you’ll also be supporting the 100,000 U.K agriculture workers that bring us our homegrown goods. 

In regards to food safety, local produce gives people greater peace of mind.

Known for some of the world’s strictest food production and packaging regulations the U.K farming sector adheres to stricter policies than most nations and recently advocated for protected imported food standards in a post-Brexit society. 

Initiatives like Red Tractor make tracing the entire journey of your local seasonal produce from ‘field to fork’ possible. 

Although not bountiful during winter, spring or autumn months, U.K summer months’ produce can be quite the opposite. Check out Countryside’s eye-opening guide to the U.K’s seasonal fruit and veg to see what we mean.

Disadvantages with buying local food 

The perceived negatives of buying locally sourced produce are generally based on dietary priorities, variety, and the depth of one’s pockets. 

It doesn’t take a climatologist to know that U.K weather doesn’t allow for the most exotic variety of seasonal produce, especially during the winter months.

If you’re somebody that does eat a fair amount of fruit, such as bananas and pineapples, then naturally, the thought of not consuming exotic produce can be restrictive.

YouGov, a U.K based research and data group found that around 80 percent of adults agree on the importance of buying local produce, but that only 30% do so on a weekly basis.

Two of the main driving forces behind this values-action gap are the lack of local seasonal produce being sold by retailers, as well as the variety available. 

Not only can local seasonal produce limit variety in your diet, but depending on what produce your local supermarkets sell, food shops may become lengthy affairs needing a few more stops to hunt down locally produced food. 

Image source: Pexels

Cost of buying local vs imported

The internet seems to be full of conflicting articles on the price of buying local seasonal produce.

One source claims wallet-melting prices, while another says that it is in fact cheaper.

So, which is it?

The price of local seasonal produce is dependent on factors such as the retailer, their location, and their supplier. No internet source truly knows the prices specific to your area.

We looked online for small, local retailers around the U.K selling local seasonal produce and compared them to supermarket prices. 

The following table summarises some of these prices. These are just a few examples helping to dispel the widespread idea that local seasonal produce is always more expensive, and that supermarket prices are always the lowest to be found.

ProduceLocally sourced from local retailer £Supermarket (local or imported) £
Potato (2kg)2.002.00
Strawberries (227g)1.502.00
Organic carrots1.50 (1kg)1.00 (700g) 
Cherry tomatoes2.50 (350g)1.70 (250g) organic
Prices are taken from Local E Sourced, Macleod Organics and Tesco

During your next shop, a quick comparison of local seasonal produce prices against imported produce sold by your area’s retailers will give you the most accurate price data.

How does buying local food help the economy?

Having an idea of the socio-economic benefits of choosing to buy local produce, and buying it from local venders, is key to understanding the wider impact of your consumer habits. 

Depending on the size and type of the business, from a vender’s perspective, the implications of paying tax differ enormously. 

Local businesses pay tax

Sole traders pay the highest tax rate.

Too small to exploit major loopholes, it’s tough for small, local businesses to get away without paying their taxes in whole. The tax takes a sizable chunk of a sole trader’s revenue when compared to other types of registered businesses.

Roughly 60% of businesses in the U.K are sole traders, and the vast majority of small, local businesses selling local seasonal produce fall under this category.

Supermarkets also pay tax. 

The impact of tax on a supermarket’s profits, however, is much more favourable. 

All major supermarkets in the U.K are registered as limited companies.

In the U.K, limited companies pay a fixed rate corporate tax of 19% regardless of revenue. 

To put this in context, Tesco generated around £64 billion in U.K revenue for the financial year 2020 and paid £5.2 billion in tax.

Keep in mind that supermarkets also take advantage of tax reliefs. 

Now take your local market fruit and veg stand. Highly likely to be registered as a sole trader, anything over £12,500 will be taxed at a minimum of 20% — increasing depending on total revenue.

If fruit and veg prices sky-rocketed, and your local market seller generated the same revenue as Tesco, their sole trader tax bill would be a whopping £23 billion. Several times more than Tesco paid in 2020.

Once you become familiar with the different U.K business tax rates, combined with supermarket’s history of tax evasion it becomes clear that small, local businesses, including those selling locally sourced seasonal produce, in relative terms, give a much greater amount back to society than supermarkets.

But what are the economic effects of choosing local seasonal produce when not only taking the retailer into consideration?

A local economy

A U.K-based grower sells their seasonal produce to a U.K-based retailer. A citizen will then buy the produce from the retailer to consume. 

Each of these steps has financial costs, and at every step, the U.K government receives a portion of the cost in tax. Tax, which ultimately gets put back into the system benefiting the entire nation. Along with this, all the money involved in these steps remains in the U.K during the process. 

The same cannot be said when purchasing foreign produce from large multinational retailers. Farms located in other countries are supported over home-grown producers and less tax is acquired by the U.K government during the process.

The minimal economic benefit to the U.K when buying imported seasonal produce is a crucial factor to consider when choosing what to buy and who to give your money to.

Read our article to discover the socioeconomic impact of buying local and how local money stays local

Image source: Pexels

How does buying local food help the environment?

In 2012, data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change showed that agriculture was responsible for 24% of the global greenhouse gas emissions for that year.

How can buying local seasonal produce help to minimise this figure?

Having now left the E.U, the U.K also leaves behind the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

In its place, the government has introduced the Agriculture Bill. Whilst under CAP regulations, farmers were predominantly financially rewarded for the amount of land farmed. The Conservative government says the bill will now reward farmers mainly on sound environmental practices.

With it now being in British farmer’s financial interests to farm more in line with nature, there couldn’t be a better time to buy local seasonal produce and help support these farmers.

Despite regulations, the U.K still has one of the highest pesticide per hectare of cropland rates in the world. 

Pesticides have a nasty reputation and minimising their use is beneficial for all. Purchasing organic seasonal produce is the best way of improving your ‘pesticide footprint’.

As advocates of local seasonal produce for not only the environmental, but socio-economic benefits, we also recognise that it may not always be the most environmentally friendly produce option in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.

Notable research like that of University of Edinburgh Professor David Reay aims to help consumers understand that with all factors considered, in some cases imported produce may have a lower total carbon footprint than homegrown produce. You can read his free book here, or alternatively, watch a video on his research here.

Research like this shows the importance of delving a little deeper into the carbon impact of the seasonal produce you consume, so that as an environmentally conscious produce consumer you can make the best choices.

How to maximise the environmental benefit of buying local produce

  • Is the produce organic?
  • Where in the U.K was it grown?
  • Is the retailer an SME?
  • Does the retailer have a reputation of tax avoidance? 
  • Is the produce seasonal and easy to grow?

Conclusion

With British farming facing uncertainty due to Brexit, now is the perfect opportunity to incorporate more local seasonal produce into your diet and help support homegrown, more environmentally friendly foods.

Before heading out on your next food shop, be thoughtful about the impacts of your purchasing decision. Buying seasonally and locally keeps money flowing within your community, as well as ensuring lower food miles and a reduced carbon footprint. While this can be more difficult to find, it may also lead you to discover locally grown foods you weren’t aware of. A little digging into where your produce comes from, along with who buying it supports, will help you make the most socioeconomic and environmentally positive seasonal-produce decisions.

Alan Palazon
Author: Alan Palazon

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