Supply chain · 14 March 2017

Small suppliers emerge as winners as consumers turn to local produce

Local produce
Three-fifths of shoppers now consider “provenance” as important as quality and price

Consumer demand for authentic, local produce has boosted the UK’s community of small suppliers, according to new research from a supply chain standards members’ organisation.

In an analysis of membership data, GS1 UK reported a recent surge in small suppliers. In 2016, 78 per cent of new members had a turnover of under £500,000, compared to 58 per cent in 2015.

Small food and grocery suppliers continued to represent the greatest portion of GS1 UK members, and the study confirmed that shifts in consumer attitudes have started to benefit local producers.

The origin of food and drink was prioritised by three-fifths of shoppers, the study found, who equated its importance with price and quality.

Consumer demand for local produce has also stretched to alcoholic beverages. Britain’s community of graft gin distilleries has doubled since 2010, while the country’s micro-breweries per capita now outnumber those of any other nation.

The UK’s independent apparel industry represented the largest source of new members, making up over a fifth of joining business owners.

The success of independent clothing manufacturers suggests that growing awareness of poor sweatshop conditions, alongside high-profile PR damage from zero-hour contracts, has deterred consumers from large clothing retailers.

The study also reported a 25 per cent rise in exports since 2011 for clothing featuring a “made in Britain” tag, indicating the global potential of Britain’s local produce.

Commenting on the data, Gary Lynch, CEO of GS1 UK, confirmed that “buying British is back in vogue”, with smaller companies driving the trend.

“Brits love an underdog story and this affinity to the unlikely hero isn’t limited to the sporting arena, with shoppers being just as likely to back the small guy at the checkout,” he said in a statement.

Lynch added that consumers were becoming “more domestically focused” in their spending habits, as the source and ethics of produce becomes a growing factor in purchases.

“While there will always be some products and services we’re happy to go to major multinationals for, supporting the local startup is back on the agenda,” Lynch concluded.

Supermarket visibility

While seven in ten small business owners cited their own website as the primary channel through which they trade, suppliers of local produce have been granted greater visibility in national stores, as supermarkets respond to consumer demands by bringing in more locally sourced products.

Tesco was found to do the most business with small suppliers, stocking local produce from a third of GS1 UK’s small business members. However, when considered alongside total market share, Waitrose provided the best representation for small suppliers.

The below table from GS1 UK illustrates which UK supermarkets are taking on a larger proportion of small suppliers.

Supermarket Market share Analysis of opportunities
for GS1 UK joiners
Waitrose 5.3 per cent 18 per cent 12.7 per cent
Tesco 28.1 per cent 33 per cent 4.9 per cent
Lidl 4.5 per cent 6 per cent 1.5 per cent
Co-operative 6.0 per cent 7 per cent 1.0 per cent
Iceland 2.3 per cent 1 per cent -1.3 per cent
Sainsbury’s 16.5 per cent 13 per cent -3.5 per cent
Aldi 6.2 per cent 1 per cent -5.2 per cent
Asda 15.6 per cent 8 per cent -7.6 per cent
Morrison 10.9 per cent 3 per cent -7.9 per cent

Looking to get your local produce stocked by the UK’s national supermarkets? Find out the secrets in our selling to big business series:

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Praseeda Nair is the editorial director of Business Advice, and its sister publication for growing businesses, Real Business. She's an impassioned advocate for women in leadership, and likes to profile business owners, advisors and experts in the field of entrepreneurship and management.

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