The national platform of 26 regional food and drink organisations, Food from England, has issued an urgent letter to the Prime Minister and all England’s MPs requesting support for the food and drink sector amid the current cost of living crisis.
Food From England brings together exceptional food and drink producers and local organisations under one federation, giving them a united voice. In total it represents over 43,000 local growers, producers, retailers, and hospitality businesses. Local trade organisation Food Drink Devon represents 350+ members and is throwing its weight behind the demand for increased backing for local independent food and drink producers, growers, retailers, and hospitality outlets; having seen the current cost of living crisis directly affect their members, some of which have been recently forced to shut their doors for good.
Chair of Food Drink Devon, Greg Parsons explains:
“Our members are calling out for increased support and information to help them understand how they can weather the cost-of-living crisis. It’s affecting every stage of the supply chain and, due to customers having no choice but to cut their spending, passing on the costs is not a viable solution. Local businesses have gone above and beyond over the past few years to support their communities and if we don’t support the ones that have managed to survive so far, we will lose them.”
The UK Agri-food sector – made up of agriculture, manufacturing, wholesale, retail, and catering – contributed 116.2 Bn (6%) to the national Gross value added (GVA) in 2020 and employed 4.1 Mn people.1 But its role is much broader than supporting the economy alone.
The crucial role of the UK food and drink sector
Local independent food and drink businesses reconnect the consumer with the land their food comes from and with the people growing, processing, selling, and serving local products, creating a sense of place and community, and making people proud of where they live.
The sector looks after the land and is a driver of innovative, more sustainable practices, while also providing the culinary infrastructure to the country’s tourism industry: food and drink are the glue of any tourist experience and greatly influence its success. Without a quality offering, visitors are less likely to dwell or stay over, and spend less.
Local, freshly produced food and drink is a healthy alternative to super processed foods and – when used efficiently – does not have to be expensive. Food Drink Devon, along with their members makes a concerted effort to educate the public on how local seasonal food can be the healthy, affordable, and sustainable option.
The crisis facing the UK food and drink sector
But despite its invaluable contribution to the local economy, England’s characteristic landscape, the environment, the country’s social cohesion and its public health, the local independent food and drink industry is in peril.
Rising costs of imported ingredients and materials, supply chain issues, continuing staffing shortages and skyrocketing energy and fuel prices have all contributed to a steep increase in production costs. Unable to absorb the additional cost due to tight profit margins, businesses are having to pass this on to customers amid a cost-of-living crisis.
“The Covid lockdown saw both the demise of many artisan producers, and food outlets disappearing overnight. If we do not support the industry now, we will see a repeat of this tragic loss of livelihoods, skills, employment, and community, possibly on an even larger scale” says Rachel Mallows, Food from England.
Government action required
Food from England has urged central Government to take action in the following areas:
● Extend the Energy Bill Relief Scheme to the 30th of June 2023 – with trade usually picking up from April onwards, this would give businesses some breathing space.
● Provide additional (grant funding) support to high-energy using food businesses to invest in a wide range of green energy solutions.
● Extend the seasonal worker scheme beyond December 2022 across all sectors in the food and drink industry to avoid further (part) closures due to staffing shortages in 2023.
● Devise a fairer business rate system that will support smaller businesses in the longer term.
● Provide capacity-building support to regional food groups in England.
In addition to lobbying the Government for support, Food from England will also be launching a DON’T LOSE IT, USE IT! consumer campaign, urging customers to buy local and support our independent food and drink businesses this winter.