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Independent Shopping

Posted by Rowan Williams on 7 March 2013 | 0 Comments

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Independent Shopping - A Personal Experience

by Rowan Williams

This New Year I decided to commit to a resolution that I hadn’t tried before. I’ve somewhat half-heartedly limped along with healthy eating, going to yoga at least two times per week, spending less money on cappucinnos – the list goes on. However this one was completely different. Driven by an ethical, political and emotional reasoning, I promised that I was going to by-pass the big supermarkets and try to shop from my local independent businesses.

The evidence to begin and really stick to such a resolution was overwhelming. I felt cheated by big business taking short cuts with their tax and using any opportunity to exploit their customers, and suppliers, to please their shareholders. I was worried about how the national economy is slowly closing down the High Street as we know it, and I feared a repeat of the social disconnection at the centre of the London Riots of 2011.

As I read about the concept of being a “locavore” I came across some really compelling evidence as to just how much power I have as a consumer. The Office for Economic Co-operation and Development state that small local businesses play a vital role for generating employment, income and, driving innovation and growth within a community. All of which are key ingredients for either growing or maintaining a local economy.

Andrew Simms, author of the book Tescopoly, has looked in to the economics of spending in the community. A study by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) found that £1 spent in a local shop selling local produce puts twice as much money back in to the local economy, and even when you buy non-local produce, that £1 you spend mean £1.76 to the local economy.  If you spend that £1 in a supermarket, it means just 36p goes back to the local economy. The rest leaves the community and feeds the shareholders at the top.

As of today (7th March) I have stuck to my New Year’s resolution for two months solidly now, and I can honestly put my hand up to say that it hasn’t been hard. Plus, the more I read about the benefits of local shopping, the more determined I am to keep my promise. In the two months of experience I have been pleasantly surprised on a number of occasions, both with the cost savings that I have made and the quality of the produce that I have bought.

In summary, I have found that in general the following items cost less in my local independent shop, than they do in a supermarket:

-          Free range eggs

-          Fruit

-          Vegetables

-          Fresh herbs

-          Meat (including organic)

-          Tinned produce

The best places to find these bargains have generally been international food shops, independent butchers and independent ‘mini marts’ (my local is called Euro Foods). In addition to the cost savings, I have paid equal prices for the following items:

-          Well known branded products

-          Milk

-          Cleaning products

-          Toiletries

But with these benefits I must confess that I am a freelance commercial photographer, I work from home a lot, I live in London and I don’t have any children. I know that it is all very well for me to have the ability to go shopping at 2pm on a Wednesday afternoon. Back in the days when I had an office job, I often didn’t get home until 7.30pm and I relied upon dropping in to a supermarket to pick up convenient food. However I have been careful to note down opening times (partly due to the fact that I am not the worlds most organised person!) and discovered that most of the shops are open until at least 8pm and all of them on a Sunday too. I just need to know where to go and what time they close.

On balance it is worth mentioning that as yet I have still not found very much in the way of convenience food. I haven’t seen any prepared veg, stir fry packs, cook in the oven stuffed chicken breasts or similar. For this reason I have had to learn to be organised about what I am cooking. I have a shopping list and I am generally sticking to meals that I have planned out in advance. This requires time, but does have the benefit of being a more healthy way to eat; and keeping my wits about me when shopping. No more browsing the aisles in a trance like state – or even getting sucked in to multiple buying offers or ‘deals’.

I have had to make some allowance to paying more for basic items, or upgrading the value of what I am buying. Generally I have found that bread and cheese are always more expensive, as is one of my diet staples hummus! The available range of those three items is generally limited too, which means that I have turned to farmer’s markets or specialty shops, paid more but found some exceptional quality.

It’s been an educational experience in the two months I have been shopping locally. I know I have to be more organised and I need to explore to know where to go for what I need. But with both of those I have spent less, consumed more whole food and made connections with my community. Only last week I didn’t have quite enough to buy a tub of crème fraiche, but it was OK because the shopkeeper just let me off. And previous to that I tried to pay for something with my debit card in the butchers, but didn’t meet the minimum transaction spend. No problem, they wrote it in the book and I paid for it the next time I went in.

In two months of research and practice I have really learned first hand that the benefit of shopping locally massively outweigh the costs. It’s been easy to stick to and I have absolutely no desire to start using supermarkets again.

 

See examples of Rowan's work as a commercial photographer on www.rowanwilliamsphotographs.co.uk

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