The recent horse meat scandal has seen some supermarkets criticised for flying in cheap produce from abroad. Jenny Simpson finds out why one chain likes to support farmers nearer to home.
Farmer Peter Ascroft knows every inch of the land his family have been tilling for three generations.
At Worthington’s Farm in Holmes, Tarleton, Peter sticks to tradition, growing a variety of arable crops in rotation to keep the goodness in the soil, and producing cauliflowers, cabbages and beetroot according to season.
The challenges of farming have changed since Peter, 55, left school 40 years ago to join the family enterprise.
These days, many big supermarkets fly in fruit and vegetables from thousands of miles away across the globe to ensure customers have what their tastes demand, regardless of the time of year.
Peter says: “Since supermarkets came and took over, they are bringing in stuff from all over the the country and other countries. You will see sweetcorn from Thailand, asparagus from Peru.
“Air travel is cheap and food is relatively cheap. It increases the pressure a lot. We have lost scores of growers in south-west Lancashire. We have had to get bigger to compete.”
Peter says he hopes the recent scandal over horse meat being found in processed beef meals will make shoppers think more closely about what they are consuming and where it comes from.
He says: “Some young people are not brought up with fresh vegetables. It’s McDonalds and pizza and they are not used to veg so they think it is bland.
“My way of thinking is people would be better eating half as much good quality food as filling themselves with rubbish. A little of what’s good for you is better than cheap rubbish. We have to keep getting that message across.”
Peter has found a supporter for his local produce in Booths, the Lancashire-based supermarket chain which he has been supplying with vegetables for the last 15 years.
He says they are helping to buck the trend and cut air miles by sourcing much of their fresh vegetables, meat and fish from their local area.
Booths spends more than £50m a year buying produce from the counties where it has stores, according to chairman Edwin Booth.
He says: “We give our suppliers a fair price for their goods to ensure our farmers and producers have a level playing field to produce great quality food and thrive.
“We support farmers’ local sourcing and marketing initiatives including Saltmarsh spring lamb from tenant farms at Holker Hall in Cumbria and Bowland Fresh milk from a group of farms in the Ribble Valley. Both initiatives return a premium price to farmers.
“At least 25 per cent of all of the products in Booths at any one time are locally produced. Eighty per cent of the company’s fresh meat comes from the region. And 24 per cent of our turnover comes from local suppliers.”
Edwin says Booths places emphasis on finding the best quality food, rather than chasing the lowest-priced goods.
“People come to Booths for the best,” he adds. “We refused to enter discounting battles over the Christmas period, preferring to focus on stocking exceptional produce at good value and still experienced record sales with a total sales increase of 5.61 per cent - showing that a retailer can doing the right thing and still thrive commercially.”