We have all undoubtedly been through a very tough few months, but it was heartening to read a survey last week which showed that farmers in Britain are now more respected than ever because of their outstanding work during the lockdown.
The report by the influential Agriculture and Horticultural Development Board (AHDB), which has a role here and works with the Department of Agriculture and Rural and Development and Invest NI’s Food and Drink Division, found that 71 percent of people interviewed in Britain believe that British farmers have been doing a good job in producing food during the crippling pandemic.
I am sure a poll of local consumers would produce an even more impressive endorsement, because farming here is much closer to the wider community than in Britain.
Commenting on the findings of the survey, AHDB said the pandemic had created “a greater sense of community” in which consumers were keen on local food because of its traceability and provenance. They had come to count on the wholesomeness and safety of local produce and had grown to appreciate the endeavours of those providing produce. More people were also turning to “comforting, traditional producesuch as meat and dairy and especially mince, chicken breast, bacon, milk, cheese and cream”.
Worryingly, many shoppers were also heavily influenced by price during the virus outbreak. Only 22 percent of people interviewed said they would buy British products if they were more expensive, whilst 51 percent said they will proactively seek out British produce post-outbreak.
Important in the results is “a shift in consumer behaviour when it comes to people claiming to be cutting back on their dairy and meat consumption”. The survey found that the number of people eating more meat has doubled to 14 percentsince February, whilst those reducing their intake has dropped from 27 percent to 16 percent. The number of people claiming to cut back on dairy has dropped from 17 percent to 11 percent, whilst 12 percent of people are now claiming to be consuming more dairy, up from five percent. Interesting to see how the pandemic has, at least temporarily, reversed the trends towards a more plant-based diet.
There are important messages to be taken from the report by the agri-food industry here. For Food NI, there is a strong case for increasing our marketing of the provenance, wholesomeness and safety of products. Sustainability seems likely to grow in importance with consumers as will food security. We need to be promoting the green credentials of our producers and produce and communicating these much more extensively in Britain.
Our longstanding focus on farmers contributing to food and drink could be strengthened to reinforce the local nature of the products for consumers here and especially in the rest of the UK. We really need to build upon our reputation as a safe, sustainable, resilient region with short supply chains.
The lockdown has also stimulated more at home food preparation which provides an opportunity to provide cooking experiences for consumers to enjoy. We need to seize the market opportunity from the evidence that there’s more home cooking and baking going on now than ever before. This looks likely to grow in popularity and will increase demand for tasty and nutritious ingredients from trusted suppliers with transparent farm links.
And on that note, this week, look out for the first Comber Earlies hitting the shops. While we can’t have a Comber potato festival this year we can still experience their delicious flavour. Just steam them and add a little local butter. Delicious.