The National Food Strategy and the role suppliers have to play in achieving Dimbleby’s reshaped food system

By Natalia Spinetto, Purchasing & Producer Partnerships at Collectiv Food

As Henry Dimbleby so succinctly puts in Part 2 of his National Food Strategy, released last week, ‘The UK has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape the food system’.

I couldn’t agree more, although the publication was frustratingly dominated by Boris’s immediate dismissal of proposed sugar and salt levies. Salt tax or not, the strategy offers invaluable recommendations for the future of British food, at a time when the fragilities of our supply chains have been left uncomfortably exposed. 

Dimbleby raises important questions around the UK’s trade policy, particularly around the significance of local sourcing and avoiding the dangers of opening up the market to cheap food produced to lower standards abroad. UK farmers are already starting to make valuable progress towards reducing carbon emissions, restoring biodiversity, and improving animal welfare standards – undermining these efforts not only shifts our environmental footprint overseas, but could also cripple our farming community.

For restaurants though, the choice often isn’t so simple. Operating on incredibly tight margins, the savings offered by sourcing produce from abroad are often too good to refuse. Particularly given the year that hospitality has had. Many kitchens are working with reduced teams, and the capacity to explore affordable, local options simply isn’t there. The other challenge for restaurants is navigating the differences between local versus international products. Specifications can vary heavily depending on the origin of the product, meaning that chefs may have to revise their recipes and cooking methods if they want to make the switch to local. Flexibility is key but, again, this is a challenge that requires time to solve – and professional kitchens aren’t known for having an abundance of spare time. 

Here’s where Collectiv Food can help. A next generation food supply business, we’re leading the transition to a transparent, fair and sustainable supply chain. We’ve just closed our Series A funding round, raising £12 million to build our team and continue to help professional kitchens solve their food supply challenges. Using technology and innovative logistics, we drive efficiencies in our managed marketplace and work with producers and customers to reduce costs and environmental impact. We’re proud to already count Big Mamma UK, The Hush Collection, Megan’s, Dirty Bones, Butchies, and Cocotte amongst our partners. 

Unlike traditional wholesalers, our model enables us to take a more personalised approach to supply, working as an extension of our customers’ teams to match their costs and specifications. With oversight of the entire supply chain, we can offer the market insights and knowledge required to navigate these industry challenges. In the case of local sourcing, 64% of our total producer network (consisting of over 2000 producers), is UK based – meaning we have the contacts to explore competitive pricing options (not to mention the fact that our logistics model helps us to cut costs regardless) and find options for more particular specifications.  Taking poultry as an example, we’ve been closely monitoring a narrowing price difference between local and EU products over the past few months. A result of Avian flu on the Continent, Covid, and Brexit implications, the change has provided an invaluable opportunity for us to help a number of our customers lock in competitive prices and make the switch to UK product.

Looking ahead and as Dimbleby himself acknowledges, we believe that also key to the future success of our food system is data. That’s why we’re using our funding to build out our Producer Sustainability Index, a methodology and scoring mechanism for food producers using a set of key food safety and sustainability criteria. This tiered rating system will harness what we know about our producer network, allowing our customers to make more informed choices and, ultimately, helping to reduce their impact.

Whilst sourcing from within the UK and holding up our standards in trade choices can certainly help us to build a low-carbon, nature-friendly, world class food system, it really is this broader concept of knowledge and transparency that I believe to be the answer. Restaurants ultimately need to be flexible in their purchasing decisions, rather than tied down by the rigidity of traditional wholesale models. Collectiv enables choice, but most importantly informed choice – allowing for better decisions around health and sustainability. This is the future of food supply, and it has a crucial part to play in us achieving the ambitions of Dimbleby’s National Food Strategy.

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