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‘Shop Local’ – is this something you do?

Diane Hall


Buy local spelt out in scrabble blocks

In this age of commercialism, the odds seemed stacked against the little guys. Bigger brands can roll with the punches of the pandemic much easier than a smaller outfit, and if you account for the numerous tax breaks and loopholes large chains and household name brands enjoy, any future Covid restrictions will affect them much less than the independents on our high streets—many of whom are saddled with years of payments from their Bounce Back Loans.

At this time of year, you’ll have seen posts and memes in your social feeds that urge you to ‘shop local’. There was a strong movement towards this in the early days of the pandemic, as people felt safer in their local farm shop or butchers than in their nearest large supermarket, where people tended to swarm. With nothing else to spend our disposable income on—because everything was closed—it wasn’t as much of an issue to pay a bit more for locally produced and homegrown foods, rather than cheaper but mass-produced, arguably less-flavoursome items on the supermarket shelves.

In those early days, I remember making several ‘discovery’ trips to my local farm shop, bakery and butchers. I could absolutely taste the difference in their meat, bread and deli products to items I tended to mindlessly pick up when popping into Morrisons when looking for ‘something nice to eat’. Food, at least, was one thing we could enjoy when everything else was off limits.

Fast forward a year and I haven’t been back to the farm shop, butchers or bakery for many months, despite vowing that I would continue to shop in these places. Not because I’ve changed my mind about the quality of the food they sell, but because my time became limited once restrictions lifted—and it’s simply more convenient to get everything I need in one fell swoop in the weekly shop, even if some of it is of inferior quality.

It’s not a conscious decision. It’s a habit. But if my shopping routine mirrors those of other people, how will small businesses survive what could be yet another difficult winter? If we’re all programmed to shlep into the supermarkets for every item on our shopping lists, how do we break the habit and make the effort to shop local without another lockdown forcing us to do so?

I don’t know the answer, but it wouldn’t hurt to be reminded of the benefits of shopping locally.

shop keeper at local market selling produce

shop keeper at local market selling produce
Local business sign, fresh from the farm, locally grown

It’s relatively safer to shop local, in terms of infection rates

Larger supermarkets, because of their size, can allow many people in at the same time to do their shopping, which increases the risk of said shoppers catching/contracting Covid. Smaller shops, during times of higher infection rates, find it much easier to control the number of people coming into their premises, with those waiting to come in forming an orderly, socially-distanced queue outside.

It helps the local economy

Large brands don’t always pay tax in the localities in which they trade, but smaller independents have little choice in the matter. Local taxes are typically re-employed in the local area.

It helps your friends and neighbours

Your local shopkeepers don’t fly in on their private jets from far-flung places every morning—they will reside in the same district as their business, no doubt. Supporting a local business means providing an income for someone in your community. Their children may be friends with your children, for all you know. It’s a much more wholesome use of your money than propping up the huge salaries of the CEOs that work for the conglomerates running your ‘local supermarket’.

Products tend to be of better quality

There are a few reasons why this is, which I won’t go into here, but mass-produced food can be saddled with additives and emulsifiers. Supermarket foodstuffs can travel here from halfway across the world; additives lengthen the shelf life of imported items. Locally-sourced food items don’t tend to travel far, and therefore don’t need artificial additions, which can detract from or dilute the taste.

You often receive a personalised service

…which is more than can be said about shopping in a large supermarket. You can chat with the staff in local shops, and they can learn more about your needs, likes and dislikes and recommend products as a result. And whilst it’s all well and good to initiate next day delivery when shopping online, there’s no personal interaction in these transactions either, and you have to wait for the delivery to come when you could just get up and go get it, there and then.

Shopping locally is a better option for the environment

Fewer air miles (and lower carbon emissions) for products to reach you; knowing exactly what pesticides, etc. have been included in your food; using UK land for farming and produce rather than simply knocking up more houses; not leaving our country open to trade ransoms because we’re less reliant on imported products…there are many reasons why visiting local businesses is good for the environment. If your local shops are near enough, you may even be able to get there under your own steam and leave the car at home.

I’m not preaching here; as I’ve explained, any intentions I had to continue shopping locally once restrictions lifted have faded away. It’s not because I don’t agree with any of the reasons above, it’s simply that convenience won out. However, having reminded myself of how juicy the pork pies from the local farm shop taste compared against the tasteless, barely-filled alternatives from the supermarket, I’m kicking myself for my laziness.

At a time when we’re facing a possible repeat of last winter’s lockdown restrictions, there’s no better time for me to revisit the local producers I found during 2020—and to find even more of them. Maybe we could all make the effort to do this.

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