Case study: Booths supermarket

It is worth looking at one small, multiple chain which has made a clear policy of sourcing a large percentage of its produce from within a defined region. Booths has 26 stores and is based in four northern counties: Lancashire, Cheshire, Cumbria and Yorkshire. Promotions are often based on regional foods, stressing the provenance, variety and quality of regional foods.

In terms of the number of suppliers it works with, Booths sees its approach as different from the other multiples. It sees dangers in the trend towards ever fewer and bigger suppliers (part of the drive towards 'efficient consumer response' using 'category partners' to manage the supply chain). It maintains a large supplier base in order to maintain choice for the company and for customers and it has build up strong links between buyers and suppliers. Some buyers have been working on the same product area for many years compared to the average 9 month turnaround for many buyers working in the multiples.

The effort Booths makes in promoting the regional produce is significant and they see it as a dominant part of its promotions and marketing strategy. As with other multiples, few lines are supplied direct from suppliers to store but the company does source 20-25% of produce from the four counties. It approaches quality assurance at the store end and store managers are tasked to assess produce at the back door and send back unsuitable produce. This means store managers are knowledgeable on quality and other assurance areas. In terms of supporting the local economy, Booths is little different from other multiples as purchasing is centralised.

Booths provides a useful example of how supermarket chains could operate by keeping a strong local or regional identity, reducing the flow of produce into and out of regions and allowing more store autonomy on produce assurance.

Other examples for comparison

As a comparison with the progress of supermarkets on the indicators above, it is interesting to note progress being made in many areas of the UK in terms of local, independent food production and marketing schemes.[xxv]

Farmers Markets

A comparison could be made with farmers' markets, which offer food that is locally produced – they are described as 'are the British farming industry's most high-profile shop-window'. A Farmers' Market is one in which farmers; growers or producers from a defined local area are present in person to sell their own produce, direct to the public. All products sold should have been grown, reared, caught, brewed, pickled, baked, smoked or processed by the stallholder. National Association of Farmers' Markets Criteria interpret the radius from the market as generally being used to define "local": 30 miles from the market would be a typical definition. The actual distance depends on circumstances and on the consumers' own perception of "local". Information on the market's policy and stallholders should also be readily available. [xxvi] Customer surveys show that the public are keen to support their local producers and 400 farmers markets are now supplying regional and local food to customers on a regular basis. Some supermarkets, notably Asda, are now running farmers markets on their car parks on a regular basis. These would score highly in terms of use of local supplies, promotion of local and seasonal, and returns to local economy.

Independent stores

Studies have shown that small independent local stores are likely to use more local suppliers and have a significant multiplier effect on the local economy.[xxvii] It has been estimated that the rate of closure of small shops is costing local economies about £550 million per year as a result of the lost 'multiplier effect.[xxviii]

Farmers diversifying

In Wye, Kent, a project, co-ordinated by WyeCycle, ensures that food produced locally is marketed at farmers' markets and through box schemes and local wholesalers, which minimises food transportation and packaging. Farmers have responded to strong demand by diversifying to ensure adequate supplies. [xxix] The aim of diversification is two-fold – an increase in the number of different foods and varieties of each, and the provision of food throughout the year. One farm in the region can now supply a range of fruit and vegetables all year round. It offers over a hundred different varieties of apples as well as a selection of plums, pears, cob nuts and other fruits and vegetables.[xxx] An additional idea being developed is for 'Superfarmers' – high street stores supplied direct by local producers with addition space for dry and household goods - to compete with supermarkets directly.

Direct marketing

this is another comparable retail operation. Approximately 40,000 households in the UK receive a box of organic produce, delivered to their door or nearby each week. The largest box scheme, Riverford, based in Devon, delivers 3500 boxes of organic vegetables per week. West Devon Environmental Network found that there was a massive demand for local organic produce, which far exceeds the available supply. They have estimated that if local producers met this demand it could add £4.9 million to the local economy every year, and create at least 61 new jobs.[xxxi]

Many of the above examples are concerned with organic production as those supplying organic and those demanding organic have tended towards more direct market to reduce food miles and create a closer relationship with the customer. However, not all organic food is locally produced and it is worth considering the relative impact of long distance organic over conventional in energy terms.

'Perfect 10' supermarket

The perfect supermarket would provide a window on local agriculture by achieving high levels of support for regional foods and local economies. It would also offer a valuable market for local services thereby helping to retain money flows within the local economy.


Indicator: Commitment to Community and promotions

Nationally there would be several staff dedicated to developing local and regional brands and a commitment to criteria for local/regional that follows the following themes:

              I.      Source: Identification (with verification) of the farmer/supplier from within a defined locality

           II.      Distance: Description of the distance the food has travelled (e.g. farmers markets definition of within a 30 mile radius) and how it was transported i.e. marked with an airplane if air freighted.

         III.      Distribution: Confirmation (with verification) that the produce has not left a defined locality, say a region on county or that is has come direct to store or to a small number of stores in a region.

        IV.      Seasonal: Information on seasonal and locally distinctive products at appropriate times

The supermarket would have a code of practice for promotion of regional/local and this would be available for customers to read and comment on.

Every store would have opportunity and finance to run regional/local promotions each year and based on local knowledge of available produce. Information will be provided about buying produce at their seasonal best and the impact of buying imported produce, particularly if it has been transported by air, the most damaging in terms of fuel use. The store would also ensure that its own promotions did not undermine the viability of local produce in local stores and outlets, by undercutting prices for instance.

Indicator: Number of fresh produce suppliers

The company would have a stated commitment to maintain current levels and work to increase the number of suppliers (in all or specific sectors) and to work with suppliers to ensure they can maintain a trading relationship that is mutually beneficial.

Indicator: Proportion of goods sourced locally/regionally and volume of goods being sourced directly to store/volume turnover

The company will implement a policy, with board level-level support, of sourcing and selling locally by adopting targets for local and regional produce and have minimal reliance on unseasonable imports.

Overall the company would have a high percentage of goods sourced locally and regionally compared to nationally and imported. It would be continuously seeking to increase that percentage by developing new lines and delivery operations with producers and undertaking market research on the products in demand. There will be special provision for the needs of "small and developing" suppliers.

The company would also assist in developing local producer capacity by providing selling or storage space to local co-operatives and sharing customer marketing information to generate ideas on local food needs

Logistics systems will be greatly modified to handle local/regional sourcing. For instance the operation of Regional Distribution Centres would be modified to increase the proportion of stock circulated within the region compared to stock for national distribution.

Each branch will have a commitment to source directly from neighbouring farms and business when produce is available/in-season. Meet the buyer events would be run at a local level to discuss possible new products and long term diversification. Suppliers will be trained to meet standards to comply with due diligence requirements


[xxv] Local food schemes also include Urban Agriculture. For more information see the websites of Sustain at; The Foundation for Local Food Initiatives at and the Food Futures and Local Food Links programmes run by the Soil Association at

[xxvi] NAFM Website

[xxvii] see Food Webs, CPRE 1988

[xxviii] Local Food in Britain: a research review for CPRE, November 2001, CPRE

[xxix] Changing Places. BBC Radio 4, 24/9/2001.

[xxx] Memorandum by WyeCycle (DSW 05). Submission to the Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs, September 2000 at

[xxxi] Elm Farm Research Centre Bulletin March 2001

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