Empty Supermarket Shelves are Opportunity for New Improved Food Shopping

If you popped to Tesco for milk in Falmouth during this second week of August 2021, you might find there isn’t any but the Spar shop had gallons of the stuff. It was hard to know what was going on as many shelves and boxes were empty, with a sign blaming a ‘technical difficulty’ and apologising for the ‘inconvenience’.

In 2003 the weather was hot. A local greengrocer in North London where I lived had to install cooling units for the first time. Prior to that, fruit and vegetables were displayed in front of his shop and cost £5 for a full bag. In 2007, the first time I went to Glastonbury Festival, I took a large bag of fruit and vegetables from a shop in Bristol, which was reasonably priced.

The Natural Store in Falmouth – on the site originally used by Burger King, then a British Heart Foundation electrical charity shop, expanded to bigger premises from two separate sites further up the high street. Image by Fal River

Meanwhile, in London, Supermarkets had been lowering their fresh produce prices, while the small independent shops were facing additional costs installing cooler display units to handle the humidity outside. While these small greengrocers were teetering on the edge of survival, supermarkets well selling wide ranges of wares from around the world, available all year round. The independent local shops started closing and it seems as if, not long afterwards, the prices of fruit and vegetables went up to new higher levels.

Greengrocers started to disappear in 2003 and big supermarkets paid fines for price fixing. Image by Christian Aagaard from Pixabay

According to a Guardian article from 2007, Sainsbury’s and other supermarkets paid fines for price fixing. There still seemed to be some consumer protection, which aimed to prevent big retailers from putting profits before the interests of customers. The claim supermarkets made was that they were helping dairy farmers, especially after Mad Cow Disease in 2001.

“An opportunity has been missed to make them stop and think about the way they do business. It proves they do not have their customers’ interests at heart, despite claims to the contrary.” – The Guardian, 2007.

“Supermarkets fined £116m for price fixing” 8 Dec 2007. Rebecca Smithers.

Today in mid-August 2021, we face new challenges, which are leaving supermarket shelves empty. However, this might be the nudge most people need to start buying local food, which could attract more independent retailers and small, quality food producers onto the high street.

By the end of the 1980s, it seemed as if towns and shopping centres across the country were full of branches of mostly the same chain stores. A glance would not have made Taunton distinct from Thame. Then farmers markets started appearing around the turn of the milennium, which reduced the distance from field to fork and put consumers directly in contact with independent food producers.

Perran-ar-worthal Fruit and Veg Stall is on A39 just outside Falmouth heading towards Truro. Their Facebook Page

This meant real life stories from farmers and artisan food producers, such as jams, pickles and bakeries, could trickle into the public domain instead of being canned behind the shop front of large supermarkets. The media started to report on industrialised farming practises and fired up the British animal loving heart with pictures of debeaked chickens and caged cows being milked for humans not their own calves.

We can all jump to conclusions before getting the facts – Image by Walkerssk from Pixabay

Today, there is no appetite for veal, even when dairy farmers created pink veal from calves, which were reared outside and grass fed. The irony is male calves are a bi-product of dairy farming as milk is produced from lactating cows, which means offspring are taken from their milk-producing mothers and only female calves are kept alive. (Blythman, 2006).

In the same way in which we do not get enough sunlight between October to April to make vitamin D, which we need for calcium absorption, the United Kingdom is reliant on imports from other countries for many food items. Riverford Farms blog Wicked Leeks reports that there is the Hungry Gap, which is down to our latitude.

The Hungry Gap is the hardest time of year for UK farmers: a few weeks, usually in April, May and early June, after the winter crops have ended but before the new season’s plantings are ready to harvest.

Wicked Leeks – Riverford Farms.

Luckily, before the lockdown started in March 2020, I had a regular order coming each week from Riverford, which provided staple sustenance, while many other people were panic-buying eggs from the supermarket.

Empty egg shelves found when buying for people shielding during the lockdown

There are still Farmers’ Markets but also new and different types of small independent food shops have appeared. Research I did for my app in early 2020 revealed that organic produce sales had risen for 6 consecutive years up to 2018, when the report was published. A search for this revealed even better news for improving British food provision. An article by Kevin White for The Grocer says that in 2020, organic food sales hit a 15 year high. This was mostly from home delivery, farm shops and market stalls and independent retailers such as natural food shops. In Falmouth, the Natural Store has a wide range of local and fresh produce, which caters for a broad selection of eating preferences.

Helford Creek make cider as well as fresh fruit juices, to be found at markets around Cornwall.

While Totnes became famous for its small, healthy food shops, Falmouth has sprouted a few of its own homegrown outlets too. There is Un_Wrap, which sells mainly dry produce ranging from herbs, nuts, its own freshly sqeezed peanut butter, grains, pulses, lentils, oats and other cereals, alongside dried fruit, oil, other liquids and beans, which includes coffee. Containers can be bought, brought it or reused. A local vegetable producer Paddy’s Patch supplies loose seasonal vegetables and eggs can be bought too.

Good to take your own jars, containers and reusable bags for a host of items on sale here – mostly dry with liquids and peanut butter

Instead of providing supermarkets with a direct response, an effective message to sell more local produce, support farmers in the area, pay reasonable prices for foods and eliminate waste, packaging and food miles from field to plate, we could eat healthily on what is available from farm shops, such as at Trevaskis Farm in Hayle, markets and stalls such as Perran-ar-worthal vegetable stall, just outside Falmouth on the A39 towards Truro.

NUDE Canteen on Killigrew Sreet. Image by FFFoodie on Trip Advisor

There is the new Nude Canteen on Killigrew Street, which delivers and sells their own innovative fusion food as well as fresh produce. There is the butchers and a fishmonger in town, while Seaborne’s Fishmonger is at the bottom of Penryn High Street and recommended for a variety of foods, including fresh crabmeat for home made sandwiches. A firm Falmouth favourite.

A selection of local cheeses, salad leaves, brocoli, spinach, rainbow chard, kale and crabmeat can make a nutritious snack or picnic while a full, tasty, satisfying breakfast can be made with an assortment of ingredients, many of which are grown, packaged or produced locally, including olives.

Therefore, while supermarkets, which undercut farmers, squeeze profits from small producers, waste food, drive produce around the country to package and distribute and clearly do not put customers’ health high on their list, have empty shelves, we can find the following locally:

Fresh herbs
Milk, Cheese, Yogurt, Butter and Cream
Duck, quail and chicken eggs
Loose in season vegetables grown on allotments
Small farmers producing a range of fruit, salad and vegetables
Bakeries, such as Vicky’s Bread
Olives, coffee and tea
Jam, pickles and preserves
A range of locally farmed meats
Line-caught fish, crabs, lobsters, mussels, oysters and other seafood
Leafy greens such as rainbow chard, curly kale, Russian red Kale, spinach, brocoli, mixed salad leaves, Battvia lettuce.
Mushrooms, radishes, cucumbers, courgettes, cabbages, cauliflower, asparagus, artichokes, potatoes, pumpkins, samphire
Dried herbs and spices, onions, garlic and shallots

Locally grown green vegeteables

A mixture of salad, fruit, vegetables, meat or fish, egg with an assortment of real foods provides a tasty, satisfying and nutritious meal, which can be shared or kept and eaten cold or recreated. Now is the time to experience foods, which boost our mood, immune system and can provide optimal health. The more we buy locally the more we will find and the cheaper it will get. Also, we’ll be ready for the supermarkets when they start to push back.

I’m off to have a look at Sainsbury’s shelves to see how big a problem supermarkets in Falmouth are having right now. With one main road into Cornwall, the A30, Falmouth is reliant on deliveries coming past extensive road words on the roundabout, which meets the A39 into Truro. This could get interesting for the big retailers and our local farms.

Published by makingspace4life

Currently on an incubator program at Falmouth University - Launchpad - and an MSc in Entrpeneurship. I moved to Cornwall in 2011 and did an MA in professional writing. A keen writer who enjoys life. Favourite activities include: painting, travelling on a budget to enjoy small luxuries, self-advocacy, comedy, film, books, ideas, conversations, team sports and gardening. (Currently limited to my basil plant and any others looking thirsty).

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