Better Food Traders

“Together we’ll make the food system better* for people and the planet” is the bold headline on the Better Food Traders website. “Better”, the asterisk clarifies, refers to a food system that is Local, Seasonal, Healthy, Sustainable, Fairly Traded, Low Carbon, and Kind to People. The Better Food Traders is a collection of ethical enterprises – ourselves included – that sell sustainably grown fruit and veg, and share a desire for a food system that supports and respects growers, has minimal impact on the planet, and promotes a healthier and more just relationship with food. 

Choosing to spend with a Better Food Trader generates positive impacts beyond the fantastic food you receive in your veg box. Earlier this year, the New Economics Foundation conducted a study into the value generated with each £1 spent at Growing Communities, a veg box scheme based in Hackney, London, and the founding member of the Better Food Traders. Their report concluded that for every £1 spent, a further £3.70 in value is generated. A comparative figure could be extrapolated for other similar enterprises. This includes value for customers, employees, growers, the environment, and food processors. Whether it’s improved farmer well-being granted by a secure income, or the health benefits conferred by eating good-quality food, the spend you make with a Better Food Trader makes a positive difference. In contrast, it has been estimated that for the food system as a whole, for each £1 spent the environment and society suffer similar costs, for example through damaged ecosystems, antibiotic resistance, or negative health implications. 

Supermarkets often do not show the same kind of care to the people who make up their supply chains. Oxfam recently published an article highlighting how shareholders of major European retailers ‘cashed in’ during the pandemic whilst supply chain workers suffered. On average, dividend payments to shareholders increased 123%, from around $10bn to $22.3bn, during the first eight months of the pandemic, when supermarkets remained open as essential businesses. Almost all of net profits – an average of 98% – were distributed to owners and shareholders. In contrast, growers and workers who ensured that supply chains continued to operate received very little support. Of the farmers and workers that Oxfam interviewed, none received a living wage, and some did not even earn a monthly minimum wage. Inadequate support was given to workers and producers to alleviate the health impacts or loss of income that occurred as a result of Covid-19. The report particularly highlights the gendered dimension, with women workers in supermarket’s supply chains more likely to face poverty, exploitation and discrimination. 

Regulation is urgently needed, but as individuals we can also choose which kind of food system we support. The report emphasises the importance of strong and effective European laws to ensure that big corporations, such as supermarkets, are held accountable for human rights or environmental violations in their supply chains. As Marc-Olivier Herman, Oxfam’s EU Economic Justice Policy Lead, puts it: “Big business cannot keep on getting off scot-free for failing to take action to respect the rights of those who make the goods that end up in our trolleys”. Moving our spend – where possible – away from supermarkets driven by profit to ethical food traders that value the people that put the food on our plates and the planet that enables its production is more important now than ever. 

The pandemic does appear to have generated a shift towards a different kind of food buying. Sustain’s research into the experience of ‘good food enterprises’ during the pandemic concluded that more people are buying from good food enterprises than before, with almost two thirds of enterprises reporting an increase in customer numbers and just under half had increased revenue. The report also explores the response of good food enterprises to the challenges of the pandemic, with 42% of enterprises supporting the emergency food response, at the same time as many (over half) were unable to access support for themselves. The question remains whether these shopping habits will be a long term trend or not, but for the sake of supporting a better food system, let’s hope so. 

Image from the Better Food Traders website.

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