Apples from Kent, cheese from Devon and milk from a British dairy. When James and Emily Bradshaw of the British Family blog buy food, they seek out retailers and restaurants who can fill their basket or plate with as much domestically-sourced produce as possible. But the Bradshaws aren’t alone in their desire to buy British.
A plethora of recent research demonstrates the high level of consumer interest in buying British food; a 2014 study from food standards organisation Red Tractor found that 90% of shoppers felt it was important to support British producers, while 84% said they’d buy food because it was grown in the UK.  A separate poll found that 89% of people check where fresh produce comes from when shopping, 93% want to see the provenance of a product in-store, and a third say they’d pay more for a product made in the UK. 
Several government strategies have been launched to push British food, while major brands including Lidl and McDonald’s have made commitments to serving British products saying it’s what their customers want.  But what does the British brand add to food products? And what does it mean to consumers?
A signal of trust and standards
For many consumers, ‘British’ signifies a level of standards in a sea of confusing certification, both in terms of the quality of product and corporate governance. “British is shorthand for quality,” says Phil Bicknell, head of food and farming for the National Farmers’ Union (NFU). “People also want to make sure they back British farmers. This strength of feeling is demonstrated by the calls the NFU received over the summer from consumers who wanted to buy British following the high profile milk price crisis facing dairy farmers.” 
British branding ties into the public’s growing desire for local produce. It also adds connotations of freshness and quality, as consumers can look at the label and know that an item hasn’t been “shipped halfway across the world.” 
There is a great deal of rationale to buying British – supporting the domestic economy, pride in heritage and product, not to mention price. Buying British has been made reasonably simple for consumersCharles Miers, co-founder of the Footprint Media Group
The horsemeat scandal of 2013 brought some of the pitfalls of long, complicated international supply chains to public attention.  Celebrity chefs talking about provenance, production and the food chain have also been drivers in prompting people to question where their food comes from. Additionally, the UK government has launched several major campaigns – the ‘Great British Food’ initiative, the ‘Year of British Food’, and the ‘Great British Food Unit’ – to heavily promote domestic produce and farming. 
“There is a great deal of rationale to buying British,” says Charles Miers, co-founder of the Footprint Media Group, “supporting the domestic economy, pride in heritage and product, not to mention price. People get it. Buying British has been made reasonably simple for consumers. The likes of Red Tractor have made ‘British’ accessible, and given domestic agriculture a context easy for shoppers to understand.” 
Brits are learning to pay attention to provenance
Helen Browning’s Organic (2014) ©
Paying a premium for quality
“There is a strong consumer demand for [point of origin labelling],” says Jennifer Gray, marketing manager at Wyke Farms. “Our own research found that 85% of our customers said food labelling was not clear enough. It’s very difficult to shop in EU retail – it’s so cluttered, there’s no clarity. And a point of origin label is something that shoppers want, but the label isn’t there.” 
In April 2015, new EU regulations made country of origin labelling compulsory for a range of meat products, with more labelling regulation likely.  Given that 79% of adults think it’s ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ important to buy locally-sourced produce, this change can make can make it easier for consumers to buy British. 
“We believe that most of the time food shoppers are looking for a general level of assurance that the food they buy has been produced to good standards and is safe to feed to their families,” explains David Clarke, chief executive of Red Tractor. “Many also want to know where it came from. The Red Tractor assurance scheme does both of these.” 
It’s very difficult to shop in EU retail – it’s so cluttered, there’s no clarity. And a point of origin label is something that shoppers want, but the label isn’t thereJennifer Gray, marketing manager at Wyke Farms
Ironically, the British farming industry attributes the high level of trust in domestic produce to the BSE crisis of the 1990s and the foot-and-mouth crisis of the 2000s. “These events led to a loss of consumer confidence in food in general, and the UK industry realized we needed to get things in order, so both consumers and trade buyers could have confidence,” says Clarke. “Red Tractor covers approximately 80% of British agricultural product. It checks standards, and generally, though not always, these standards are higher than other international standards. More importantly though, our standards are complied with.” 
Chicken farmer, Sainsbury’s supplier and National Farmers’ Union board member Charles Bourns agrees that British assurance schemes are vital: “They prove to my audience that it’s worth their while buying my British chicken. They have to know I’m being audited, and that I’m maintaining high standards, because if not, I’d be booted out of the scheme.” 
In 2013, the Bradshaw family sought to demonstrate the high standards of the UK industry by making a commitment to buy only British produce for a year. James Bradshaw says that the decision was made after news emerged about the tax avoidance strategies of many international companies, leaving him to ask “how can we support British-based businesses that do support our tax system and whose values we share?” Now the experiment is over, the Bradshaws continue to buy around 95% British food. “I feel we have more assurance in food safety and the quality of our farms than anywhere else in the world,” he explains. “At times, you might pay a premium, but I personally feel that it is worth the premium.” 
High-profile disease outbreaks raised standards on British farms
David Levene (2014) ©
Animal welfare concerns
Animal welfare is seen as a key selling point for animal products, with British provenance signifying higher standards and market-leading advances. For example, the UK was one of the first countries to end battery hen production, and is one of only four to be awarded an A grade by the Animal Protection Index. 
“The UK is perceived to be very high up the scale when it comes to how well we look after our livestock,” says Clarke. “Pigs are good example – we made changes earlier and went further than all other EU member states. Plus, a portion of our production is outdoor pigs, which is not too common in other member states.” 
Many brands use animal welfare within marketing messages and highlight their positive efforts where possible. KFC makes much of its Red Tractor chicken, which is allowed “more space and better conditions than the legal minimum,” while Hellmann’s stamps ‘free range eggs’ in prime positioning on its jars. 
The UK is perceived to be very high up the scale when it comes to how well we look after our livestock. Pigs are good example – we made changes earlier and went further than all other EU member statesDavid Clarke, chief executive of Red Tractor
A report conducted by Ethical Consumer on supermarkets noted that, “businesses like Waitrose and Sainsbury’s, for example, are differentiating themselves more and more by cutting the most damaging elements of factory farming from their supply chains – and telling their customers about it.” 
For example, Waitrose specifies that all UK animal produce must be Red Tractor approved as a minimum, but must also adhere to additional requirements, such as distance to slaughter.  Some rivals like Lidl and Aldi offer 100% British in their fresh meat ranges because they know that consumers will recognise this as a sign of minimum welfare standards. 
Supermarket supply chains are becoming more transparent
Garry Knight, Creative Commons (2012) ©
A commercial opportunity
With the UK grocery market worth an estimated £177.5 billion in March 2015, retailers are capitalising on the trend towards local produce, with many publically committing to British products and marketing this heavily.  “We believe there has been a definite shift towards loyalty to British products and increasingly local products,” says Richard Bourns, head of food buying at Lidl. “All of our fresh British meat and poultry is produced to strict food hygiene, animal welfare and environmental standards, with every pack traceable to British Farms.” 
Another example is McDonald’s. In September 2015, the fast food giant announced it would be sourcing 100% British potatoes, to be served alongside its 100% British and Irish beef, eggs, pork and milk. “Our customers like us to source locally wherever possible, and so we’re pleased to announce that from September, the only potatoes we’ll use for our famous fries will be British,” said Connor McVeigh, McDonald’s UK supply chain director, adding that the move would help directly support the nation’s farming sector. 
Considering that past participants in British Food Fortnight – which promotes and celebrates domestically produced foods – have reported a 34% bump in sales, going local is proving fruitful for retailers. “Today’s consumer wants value when they are shopping or eating out and value is no longer just about price,” explains Alexia Robinson, founder of the annual event. “Increasingly people want tasty, fresh, healthy, seasonal, local, regionally-distinct foods with visible traceability back to the producer – all distinctive qualities of British food.” 
What’s made Great British grub so appealing?
The Great British Bake Off (2015) ©
Insights and opportunities
‘British’ provides a powerful, unambiguous branding opportunity for businesses and products that qualify. “The general public want the food they buy to adhere to their personal values,” says Rich Clothier, managing director of Wyke Farms. “We’ve done a lot of research with supermarkets and their shoppers, and there’s a trend for British, local food that people trust and know the provenance of across all demographics. To have British as part of a brand is a fantastic opportunity for UK farmers and producers because we have some of the best quality systems in the world and it’s a great selling point.” 
Price and convenience are still paramount, but British origin can provide a unique selling point to differentiate between similar products. “A lot of businesses are much more aware of their labelling, and are far more keen to have their British origin as a USP against other products on the market,” notes Bradshaw. 
The general public want the food they buy to adhere to their personal values. There’s a trend for British, local food that people trust and know the provenance of across all demographicsRich Clothier, managing director of Wyke Farms
This branding also builds on national sentimentality, patriotism and pride, with the Queen’s Jubilee and the London 2012 Olympics igniting a desire for British products. This has continued to be fuelled, in part, by the popularity of programmes like The Great British Bake Off, which tap into a sense of Britishness. The growing preference for UK-made products hasn’t escaped the notice of marketers at Silver Spoon; a current packaging design features the words “the only sugar grown in Britain” no fewer than nine times on a single packet.
British products tap into the increased consumer desire to buy local and domestic products from trusted companies. The high levels of trust and quality associated with British systems and regulations mean that savvy businesses are looking for ways to incorporate these ingredients, and the associated values and ethos, into their business models. Those who do it well, and authentically, are likely to reap the benefits.
Amy Fetzer is a freelance journalist, author and consultant specialising in sustainability. Amy’s goal, through her book ‘Climb the green ladder: make your company and career more sustainable’, is to empower individuals and organisations to make positive choices.
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