Sourcing locally grown produce has always had a certain cachet about it. The business and environmental importance is increasing with more and more UK consumers becoming conscious about where their food comes from. Concerns about sustainability, food shortages and climate change have turned the spotlight on how far our food travels and how ethically it is produced.
Buying local is a sensible business strategy for any restaurant looking to genuinely improve its ethical credentials and reduce supply chain disruption whilst maintaining inventory and encouraging more diners through the door.
And the figures back this up - according to one report, 66% of Brits are concerned about how local their food is, food chain transparency and whether or not they’re eating organic.
What does “locally sourced” really mean?
Definitions of what locally sourced means vary, however, most agree it is food that is produced within 50 to 100 miles of where it is sold i.e. your restaurant. In practice, if you source fresh produce from a local farmer or fishmonger within a few miles of your establishment, then you’re sourcing locally.
When referring to food, locally sourced typically refers to things like meat, fish and dairy but you can also find a vast array of other foods available from local manufacturers such as baked goods, fruits and vegetables, spices, honey, and craft wines and beers.
If you’re green-fingered and have the capabilities, then consider growing your own fruit and veg. It’s not just a nice marketing USP, it also means you can source produce on your doorstep and keep better control over the quality while knowing exactly where it comes from and how it was grown. If you have dishes on your menu with a particular local flavour or hard-to-find ingredient, it could give you that competitive edge.
The advantages of sourcing locally
The taste of home-grown tomatoes or new potatoes is different and infinitely more delicious. This is because mass-grown produce is often picked before it is ripe to survive the thousands of miles it must travel and still be in great condition to sell/use. Some produce are gas-ripened which interferes with the normal ripening process. Take tomatoes again, for instance, gas-ripening forces them to turn red but doesn’t make them ripe because once they’re picked, they stop producing sugars.
Sourcing locally grown produce means you can tap into natural and fresh flavours within your dishes. They’re also likely to be organic which is great news for diners concerned about the use of pesticides.
Better still, if you compost your food waste, you’ll be putting important nutrients back into the ground and continuing the cycle for future crops.
###Supporting local businesses
Sourcing locally is good for the economy because you’re putting money back into the pockets of local businesses. By sourcing from other local businesses, you’re also supporting local employment and the wider community. On top of that, you’re likely to form good working relationships with local food producers and other restaurants, providing your eatery with support and access to a wider market and business opportunities.
Sustainability can be an important factor when people choose where to eat. Proving that you source sustainably, whether it’s the ingredients in your dishes or the napkins on your table, doesn’t just make good business sense, it’s essential for the long-term health of the planet too.
Buying local means shorter transportation routes, less use of fossil fuels, and because the food travels shorter distances it often means less packaging too.
Attract like-minded customers
Consumer values are a key driver of changing shopping habits and given that 40% are now shopping locally, restaurants should sit up and take note.
There is a premium on sustainably sourced produce so having such items on your menu can drive consumer spending, increase profit margins and encourage more people into your restaurant.
Things to consider when sourcing locally
While locally sourced ingredients can encourage customers to eat in your establishment, the higher prices could deter some. Local producers are often smaller and don’t have the same infrastructure as larger producers meaning their overheads can be costly e.g. delivery and lead times can be longer.
Shorter shelf life
Local produce can go off faster because it’s not subject to the same preserving processes needed to survive a cross-country trip. Your ordering and inventory management are therefore critical in reducing the risk of spoilage.
You’re subject to the whims of the weather and the seasons – British strawberries and raspberries are only available in the summer, for example. This can limit your menu options, but you can turn it to your advantage, creating new menus as seasonal produce becomes available.
Where to find locally sourced suppliers
A farmers’ market is a great way to meet local producers; try samples to work out who best works for you. Networking with other food businesses can give you an in with their suppliers too. You can also sign up to Big Barn which has information about thousands of local markets and producers across the country.
How to introduce local produce
Start small by adding a few items to your specials. Ask staff to highlight the new items and get customer feedback which you can then use to decide whether it’s working for you or not. You can then make them a permanent fixture or experiment with other dishes, seasonal offerings and special menus.
Promote locally sourced
On top of adding dishes to your menu, you can spread the word further through your email marketing campaigns and let customers know you’re serving locally sourced foods. You can highlight local producers and farmers on your social media channels as well as organise cross-promotional activities.
Your marketing activity should drive traffic to your restaurant and encourage customers to return when the menu changes. Seasonal promotions or menus with limited availability can keep their interest piqued. Don’t forget to encourage them to sign up for your newsletter or loyalty programme so they’re in the loop when new dishes are added.