Many reasons to shop local

We reveal the findings of our shopping habits survey and hear from some of the prize draw winners about their local shopping experience. Scroll to the end for helpful links on where to buy local food as well.

Kensington Gardens shopping streetThere is nothing like a global pandemic to make us reassess our shopping habits.  During the first COVID-19 lockdown between March and July we began to hear many anecdotal stories about people changing their food buying habits and we wanted to find out more.

A lot changed during those months, with long queues for supermarkets, shockingly empty shelves and vanishing delivery slots.  There were extensive online chats about the triumphs of finding flour, eggs and loo roll. Those who were used to eating out were forced to cook more at home (or order more home deliveries) and the opportunities to pop into the shop on the way home from work were suddenly eliminated.

To find out what changed for people, we worked with our colleagues Food Matters to design a survey which would help us understand the types of changes people were making and what that meant for local businesses.  Shifting our food shopping to local businesses and businesses supporting local suppliers means a boost for the local economy, more supportive for the environment (fewer food miles, less plastic and more seasonality) and less food waste in the system.  It was therefore important for us to find out if change had happened in favour of local businesses and if so, what we could do to encourage that change to last beyond lockdown.

Buying and cooking more

We surveyed residents in Brighton and Hove and received 456 responses.  Over 50% of people surveyed said they were spending more on food shopping, whilst many people claimed to be shopping less.

The survey showed that as people were home more, had more time to cook and less options for eating out, they bought more food to be cooked at home. As people were going shopping less (to avoid long queues and limit exposure to the virus) their shops were bigger and therefore more expensive, than pre-lockdown.

Shifting to local and online

Florence Road Market

Many of the people surveyed either already shopped in independent shops or started during lockdown and 57% claimed they were spending more in local, independent shops during this period. 42% of respondents shared that they were spending more on independent online delivery services (not supermarkets).

The survey results suggested that customers felt they wanted to support independent food outlets, some being prepared to pay more in recognition of the food quality, personal health and environmental benefits.

Others chose local shops during lockdown to avoid long supermarket queues and lower the risk of contracting COVID-19. They reported that supermarkets felt ‘stressful’ and ‘people weren’t taking notice of social distancing’.  Whilst some customers moved to online shopping for the same reasons, others stopped ordering online to free up slots for those who were more in need.

I’ve been so impressed by the adaptation and response of the community and local businesses to what has been happening this year. Particularly as someone living alone and in the clinically extremely vulnerable category, it was great to still be able to get refillables, fresh produce (and bakery goodies!) delivered. I feel like this year has highlighted so many benefits of shopping locally and thinking creatively about how we shop, eat and live.

Ali , Prize Draw Winner

 Although this is great news for independent shops, it is worth noting that some people referred to local mini/express shops in their answers, which means non-independent retailers are included.

So what do smaller, local shops offer during a time of crisis that independent businesses can learn from? And how can these benefits be felt beyond the crisis period?

Social Supermarket, HISBE

A more pleasurable experience

Many respondents stated that local shops felt safer as procedures and restrictions were clearly in place.  The shops felt less crowded and ‘less hectic’, despite being smaller, and queues were shorter.  Some respondents mentioned that local shops appeared cleaner and staff were friendly.

More reliable

The survey reported that local, independent shops restocked items more quickly, had better quality fruit and veg and were easier to access for some.  Independent supermarkets such as HISBE acknowledged the need for a consistent supply and adjusted their opening hours to allow more time to restock their shelves.

Limiting food waste

Some respondents reported an increase in household food waste due to trying to meet minimum spends for online shopping or their veg box being too large. Food waste was also caused by people buying more to limit supermarket visits and making ‘just in case’ purchases.

Long queues and empty shelves contributed to a growing anxiety that the city was going to run out of food. Independent shops played a key role in making the city’s food resilience visible. They created a shopping environment where people did not have to queue for so long and witnessed shelves being regularly stocked, customers could be reassured that their access to food would not be compromised.  This meant people could shop more freely and did not feel pressured to make additional purchases which would inevitably lead to food waste.

Many of the consumer shifts mentioned in the survey feel directly related to Covid-19. Yet there are a few recommendations for businesses to help them continue to meet customer needs beyond the crisis, which has clearly been a catalyst for change.

Covid-19 made many people think about where their food comes from, when usual shopping habits were disrupted. 69% of people want to continue with their new consumer habits and this survey highlights some key factors that may help consumers to do just that:

  • Home deliveries – consumers want the convenience of home deliveries from independent shops and producers. Orders need to be appropriate for all household sizes, include fresh fruit and veg and give consumers the freedom to customize.
  • Shopping environment – creating a pleasant, relaxed shopping experience with friendly staff, clean stores and manageable queues.
  • Promoting benefits – independent shops have shorter supply chains meaning there is less food waste in the system, many use less plastic and packaging and offer security to local producers. With every £1 spent in a local, independent business, between 50 and 70p circulates back into the local economy in comparison to 5p in non-independents. Promoting these benefits remind consumers to make the right choices.

Consumers and businesses supporting each other

Independent food shops are vital in supporting the local economy, contributing to local food system resilience and environmental sustainability.  They play a huge part in making Brighton and Hove the thriving food city that it is.  It is clear from this survey that Covid-19 gave our favourite independent food businesses a chance to shine.  Continuing to support them beyond Covid-19 is the perfect way to say ‘thank you’ for making our city the resilient, sustainable food city that it is.

I feel very lucky to live somewhere like Brighton, especially during this year – local shops really got us through.

Elisabeth , Prize Draw Winner

Brighton has some incredible, independent food businesses which gives our city its thriving food culture.  If we want to see our favourite businesses thrive then there is just one thing to do.  If you like where you live, buy local.

Below are some useful links to help you find independent shops in Brighton and Hove:

Shop plastic free

Shop organic and local

Local veg and food deliveries

Where to buy sustainable fish

Local & organic butchers and meat suppliers (if this interests you, make sure to respond to our survey about setting up a direct meat buying scheme to connect residents to local farmers.)

Shop as a community


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