In the light of growing concerns about the separation of producers and consumers in our food system and the power of big supermarkets, new research funded by Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) provides valuable insights into the motivations and practices of consumers and producers involved in alternative food networks, which include schemes as varied as organic vegetable boxes, community gardens and farm animal adoption.
Through participation, consumers tended to increase their consumption of fruit and vegetables, and improve their cooking skills and knowledge about food. The research also found some evidence of a graduation effect, whereby involvement in an alternative food scheme encouraged consumers to change their consumption behaviours in relation to other goods, such as household products and clothes.
Although the majority of consumers use alternative food sources alongside supermarkets, they often did not trust them and felt that the quality of supermarket food was inferior. Many reported that they only shopped there out of necessity. Alternative food projects also challenge supermarket-led notions of food choice. Although they may provide less choice in terms of types of product, consumers in our research associated these projects with a greater variety of foods, many of which are unavailable on supermarket shelves.
People take part in alternative food networks for a range of economic, ethical and personal reasons and these vary over time and in relation to life events such as moving house or the birth of a baby. For many, a key motivation was a desire to care for people and places, both close and distant. This involved reducing food miles, sourcing Fairtrade whenever possible, or looking for products with reduced environmental impacts and high animal welfare standards.
Dr. Moya Kneafsey from Coventry University, who led the research, commented, Consumers enjoyed being able to ask the producers abo
|Contact: Danielle Moore|
Economic & Social Research Council