Consumers are increasingly conscious of where their food comes from. It’s time for our industry to start using more locally grown produce.
Sourcing local food has become more than a trend. According to recent research, more than a quarter of diners would be willing to spend 25% more on their food if they knew it contained British produce. Whether you’re watching Saturday Kitchen or Masterchef, the same idea gets repeated by chefs: produce bought from local sources tastes better.
No wonder more restaurants are clamouring to support local businesses. After all, purchasing locally not only improves the chances of a restaurant being successful, but it can also help to drive the local economy. If more people in your community have more money in their pockets, they’re more likely to have money left over to spend at restaurants. It just makes sense.
Of course, for chefs, sourcing locally can be seen as expensive, time-consuming and often difficult. But it doesn’t have to be like this, and in the end, sourcing locally is always worth it.
Here are four reasons why buying more locally produced food is the best thing for your menu.
1. Fresher, healthier and better-tasting dishes
Some of you may be thinking: all of this sounds great, but isn’t it just putting more pressure on chefs? More time spent trying to find ethical produce? More time putting together hyper-seasonal menus? There are, however, more benefits for both chefs and restaurants.
For chefs, a big advantage is that using local, seasonal produce can increase creativity. Working with a limited number of ingredients may sound like you’ll end up with stew and dumplings in winter and salads in summer. But it doesn’t have to be so. Get inspired and always know what’s in season, with Great British Chefs’ helpful guide or check out this seasonal produce guide for a good example.
By sourcing locally, you’ll always have the freshest, healthiest and tastiest produce. So whatever you put on your menu, it’s going to make your dishes taste great. And having to come up with inventive new ideas every season will make even the weariest chef eager to wake up to source produce from local farmers markets.
2. Local produce contributes to the local economy
Local farmers would certainly love it. Farmers markets would definitely start to grow. And the demand for locally grown foods amongst consumers would be met. Tick, tick, tick.
However, for some, especially those who work for bigger restaurants, it’s often seen as more challenging than purchasing ingredients from big, nationwide suppliers. Apples in July? Artichoke in December? With imported produce, it’s possible to have whatever you want in your recipe, whatever the month.
Some say it can work out more expensive too. Though this isn’t always the case, especially if you buy the most in-season produce possible, from local suppliers. It may also be harder to source the ingredients you need when you run out of stock. But as the stats suggest, customers are willing to spend more on locally produced food. So it’s probably worth it in the long run.
3. Sourcing locally is great for restaurant reputation
Putting local produce on your menu that is free from pesticides and preservatives will make your kitchen very popular. A certified organic sticker might not be trustworthy for an ethical consumer shopping at a supermarket, but if your menu says which farm your potatoes come from, it shows you really care about sourcing your food locally.
Let’s put ourselves into the mind of the diner. You walk into a restaurant which only stocks local produce. The chances of you encountering pre-cooked, processed and packaged foods drop dramatically. If your menu is made up of local meats, sustainable local fish, and seasonable vegetables, it will radiate health and wellness.
It’s good for restaurants, too. Having a restaurant that sources locally is a big PR boost. It shows that you care about local people, local farmers and local suppliers. And for the eco-conscious diner, it proves that your restaurant cares about the environmental impact of the food on its menu.
4. Locally sourced food is better for the planet
People are becoming more aware of their individual impact on the planet. And eating local is an important part of this. It reduces food miles, protects farmland and preserves wildlife. It doesn’t matter if your diners are vegan, flexitarian or a borderline carnivore — eating locally helps to save the planet. And consumers understand this.
You won’t be alone on your crusade for local produce, either. From the Michelin-starred Le Manoir and L’Enclume, to Tom Adams’ hyperlocal Coombeshead Farm Restaurant, chefs and restaurants up and down the country are embracing locally-sourced food.
With the successes that they see in their businesses, it won’t be long before more chefs join them on the journey to incredible, fresh dishes and planet-saving menus.
So, where do you begin?
By now, you’re probably thinking about adding more local produce on your menu. You might already have multiple tabs open of local suppliers and farmers markets that you can contact. But for some, the thought of changing an entire menu can feel daunting.
Even if you start by sourcing a quarter of your food locally, you’ll be on the right track. Build relationships, build loyalty, and in the end, you’ll grow both your personal and restaurant’s reputation.
If you need a place to start your research on local producers in your area, check out bigbarn.co.uk.