Has lockdown changed the way we shop for food, for the better?
The rise of the greengrocer and the local farm shop
Plastic waste is the bugbear of many an ecologist. It plagues our beaches, oceans, parklands, verges and anywhere else it is carelessly discarded. It takes decade upon decade to start breaking down and is the cause of thousands of deaths in animals across the globe.
But where does a lot of household plastic come from? This next example might not work as it is likely we are preaching to the choir, but when you next go shopping, look at your trolley and count up everything that is stored, wrapped or contained in plastic.
Unless you are more conscious to the issue than a lot of people and buy loose, use reusable bags, and so on, but the average weekly shop in the UK generates 2 kg of plastic waste, which across the UK works out to be 54 million kilos. Or as a sensationalist headline, that is the equivalent of 1,000 Asian elephants. Is there another way?
I don’t want this to be another coronavirus based article, but courtesy of the lockdown, the stockpiling in supermarkets and risks of hygiene in busy stores my family and I have been making some changes to how and where we shop.
We are fortunate enough to have several farm stores near our home, so have turned to those in a bid to avoid the supermarkets. Normally we have deliveries made and opt for the “low plastic” option at checkout, but with delivery slots being rarer than hen’s teeth, and some people needing them more than us, we have forgone that method and returned to the 1950s. Saturday mornings are spent cycling to Priestly Farm or walking to the garden centre and stocking up at their farm-store.
The produce is fresh, local, and seasonal, and while their prices cannot compete with a supermarket, the taste of the produce is notably better. There is a deep sense of nostalgic joy to be gained from filling a paper bag with mushrooms caked in mud or carrots whose only resemblance to a carrot is their orange colour. Farm stores are a perfect example of not only low plastic waste but also low produce waste. Unsold stock is put on a heap to rot and used to fertilise the next crop or added to animal feed. Our local farm-store has a small petting zoo of a few pigs, a goat and a few runs of rabbits and guinea-pigs, which serve as a good outlet for unsold fruit and veg.
Priestly not only carries a stock of fresh fruit and veg, but is also partnered with the local butchers so obtaining exceptionally fresh, and very locally sourced meat products is all the easier. Workers in the shop said that they had seen their footfall double during the pandemic so far, but the question is; will these new customers stick around once “The New Normal” arrives?
Hopes are that the relaxed shopping experience and the tasty produce will keep people coming back. Cauliflowers have been one of the biggest draws they say, with people saying that their farm fresh caulis taste so much better than the shop-bought items. A wider survey shows 2 in 5 Britons have been using local and independent stores more during the lockdown, with over a third of the people surveyed saying that they would keep using their smaller sellers, if not use them more.
This isn’t a standalone case though. Greengrocers have been seeing growth year on year since 2016, driven by the “Attenborough Effect” and the demand from Millennials for fresh, seasonal and local groceries. And much the same can be said for butchers.
The drive to eat cleaner, and shop “kinder” has seen people’s habits change in support of local businesses. Which means that finally there could be a positive millennial headline on the horizon; “Millennials save the greengrocer”. TV chefs and cooking shows have a lot to answer for here as well. The move towards using “fresh ‘insert vegetable or herb here’” has meant people have had to start looking outside of supermarkets for their ingredients.
Before moving back into the family home as lockdown tightened, I had to take to visiting the small greengrocers locally because the nearby Tesco had shelves that could barely hold stock for more than an hour before it’d be panic bought. As much as the pandemic has made us realise how much we rely on our supermarkets and the people who work there, we’ve also come to appreciate the smaller stores.
So, could the Covid-19 pandemic have a series of positive effects once we establish “The New Normal”? Potentially yes, with a percentage of the uptake in shopping locally, sustainably and in a more plastic-free manner looking to stick around when supermarkets return to a more recognisable system, we could be seeing a massive drop in the amount of single-use plastic in our shopping baskets. And with the tide turning on plastic already, perhaps this will be our next step in the right direction?
A hopeful future for our shopping habits?