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Building the market for local food - Clare Parnell

The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the fragility of Cornwall’s food and drink supply chains, reliant as many are on the food service, leisure and tourism sectors, and now facing the uncertainty of Brexit trade agreements.

That’s why the LEP is supporting the development of more regional food supply chains that can nurture our diverse base of small and medium food producers and strengthen the local economy as we move towards recovery.

The LEP’s Rural Group commissioned a 12-week study earlier this year funded by Agri-Tech Cornwall to investigate how we can better support food and drink producers in the wake of Covid-19.

The research showed there is enormous potential to shorten local supply chains and retain spend in the region. We discovered for example that care homes in Cornwall spend almost £12m on meals a year but over a third of those we surveyed had no idea how much of their food is locally sourced.

Schools and colleges were similar, spending significantly per year on school meals but half of them not knowing how much food was local. There is huge opportunity for local food and drink businesses to supply these markets but we need to overcome perceptions that it’s too difficult or expensive.

One brighter note during the pandemic has been increased numbers of people buying local during lockdown. Our research showed that 74% of farm shops and local independent food stores surveyed saw an increase in sales, with 37% planning to expand and many developing online and delivery options for their customers.

The fishing industry too has proved adaptable, with 86% of respondents finding new ways to sell their catch including initiatives like call4fish which started in Plymouth and quickly went nationwide.

The challenge now is to capitalise on these changed consumer habits, and look at how we can encourage more local procurement at scale from the likes of schools, colleges and care homes.

The LEP’s Rural Group is currently pursuing three main strands of activity:

  • Examining how we can adapt existing local procurement initiatives in the public sector (eg the NHS) to meet other needs, such as care homes
  • Whether we can create food ‘hubs’ that bring together diverse food and drink suppliers to put local produce packs into holiday accommodation in Cornwall, rather than supermarket deliveries
  • And how we can help farm shops and other independent food and drink retailers expand what they offer to provide more online ordering and delivery services to their customers

Our research has demonstrated potential for much stronger regional food supply chains through public procurement catering, and helping producers meet increasing demand for locally sourced produce. The aim now is to secure those new routes to market and reconnect people to local food. You can read more about the supply chain research we commissioned here.

Clare Parnell is a farmer in North Cornwall and agri-food specialist. She is a LEP main Board member and chairs the LEP’s Rural Group. 

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Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership, PO Box 723, Pydar House, Pydar Street, Truro, TR1 1XU
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