Consumers are almost unanimous in their desire to stand behind the British farming industry according to a recent survey conducted by The Rural Policy Group, a think tank campaigning for better representation of the rural economy in British politics. Nearly all (99%) of the consumers surveyed said it was important for farmers to receive a fair price for their produce.
Recognising that 42% of farms will be loss making by 2024 and that the UK Government seems to favour keeping food prices low with trade deals that allow cheaper imports, 93% of consumers are prepared to pay more for their food in order to ensure farmers are fairly rewarded for their produce. The same number of respondents (93%) also think that supermarkets should do more to protect local farming and maintain good food standards.
The gap between what consumers say they believe and how they behave is usually greater, since it is influenced by the constraints of household budgets at the point of purchase. This clear closing of the gap in attitudes and behaviour reinforces research from Hall & Partners Value Shift report, which identifies a number of key consumer trends that emerged during the pandemic including the resurgence of localness, concern about personal safety and the increased desire for sustainability, social equality, and fairness. Essentially a more health conscious and locally focused consumer is prepared to invest in high quality British food.
Mark Lumsdon-Taylor, Chair of The Rural Policy Group, says, “We are at the dawn of a new food era where people re-engage with food production and give more weight to provenance, ethical concerns and nutritional value rather than price.”
Sir Richard Needham, widely acknowledged as the most successful Minister of Trade since the Second World War, said during a recent RED Talk on Building a Sustainable Rural Economy:
“British governments, by and large, have always ended up on the side of cheap food…because that’s where the votes are and the more economic problems the country runs into, the more governments tend to look to import cheap food”.
“Food in Britain is cheaper than anywhere else in Europe as well as our new trade partners Australia and New Zealand. Most families spend just 10% of their income on food now compared to 25% in 1970,” adds Mark Lumsdon-Taylor. “This research tells us that consumers know that what they eat is important to their health and want to invest in this even more post pandemic.
“At the same time, British farming is at a critical juncture. Farmers are facing a perfect storm of rising costs, a more competitive domestic market, shrinking export markets, a shortage of labour, a new system of farm payments and a high degree of uncertainty about what the future will look like. Margins in farming are notoriously tight, and they are now being squeezed from all sides. Nobody wins in a price battle – neither the producer nor the supermarket and ultimately, not the consumer either.”
99% of respondents in the Rural Policy Group survey agreed that future generations will not thank us if we accept cheap food imports with lower quality production, environmental welfare, animal welfare and nutritional standards. 98% of consumers said they stand behind British farming.
Indeed, Nick von Westenholz, director of Trade and Business Strategy at the NFU, said “Putting a British flag on food packaging was the quickest way to shift product.”
Sarah Calcutt, vice chair of Rural Policy Group concludes, “Farming appears to be the sacrificial lamb in our trade and immigration negotiations. Government policy is making farming less financially viable, at a time when financial stability is needed to underpin progress towards the sustainable development goals the government has committed to. As one food industry commentator said during the launch of the Green Futures Report, farmers can’t go green while they are in the red. We have all the resources we need to build a better, thriving rural economy that puts provenance and food safety at its core and ultimately protects the health of the population for years to come.”