Local and small-scale food businesses have largely been able to stay open and adapt to new conditions during the coronavirus outbreak due, a new snapshot survey has found.
The survey of 102 small food enterprises in London found that 80 per cent were able to stay open, while 32 per cent reported an increase in demand. The companies questioned were members of one of two London-based local food networks – the Food Coops and London Food Link – and included cafes, producers, shops, markets and buying groups.
Findings from the survey, which was done between 6 April and 8 May, said that uncertainty and income fluctuation had made it difficult to plan for the future, but community networks have helped these small food businesses find solutions.
“Being able to be small and nimble and people-powered has worked to our advantage at this time. It’s vital that local and national governments support sustainable small businesses with affordable rents, enabling finance, and supportive regulation,” said Tom Steele of the Kentish Town Box Scheme.
The survey is the latest in a growing body of evidence of the resilience of smaller food businesses during lockdown. It follows anecdotal reports that began to emerge after local food supply was quick to fill the gaps left by home delivery shortages from national retailers, as well as reaching those unable to leave the house.
Research done last month by the association for farmers’ markets and farm retailers, the Farm Retail Association (FRA), found that 92 per cent of its members have seen a “significant” rise in new customers, while 79 per cent had introduced a click and collect service because of coronavirus, including in the form of contactless ‘drive-thrus’. Another 67 per cent said they had introduced home deliveries.
“The last couple of months have clearly shown that farm retailers can react nimbly to customer demands because of their size, independence and direct relationships with local farmers,” said chairman of the FRA, Rob Copley.
Sustainable food alliance Sustain is now calling for government recognition for small food businesses post-Covid-19.
“We think it is critical that small, diverse food enterprises are seen and heard as part of local economic recovery plans that are being developed following lockdown,” said the group’s deputy CEO, Ben Reynolds.
“These businesses have shown their economic worth time and time again, and now have demonstrated how resilient and adaptable they can be in times of emergency and recovery.”
Sustain wants the government to work with councils to provide support and access to premises, and opportunities for good food enterprises to thrive.
The FRA said it is hoping this surge in new customers will result in long-lasting new shopping habits.
“Run by local families for local families, supporting local farmers and local jobs, farm shops are at the beating heart of communities across the country. We just hope customers keep coming back to support them and local farmers for years to come,” Copley added.
Elsewhere, others are questioning how possible it would be to scale up the shorter supply chains that service local food systems, as well as the relative security of the large-scale supermarket food models during times of crisis.