Rethinking Food Shopping During a National Lockdown

The gathering of food and drink, which for much of human existence only needed to compete with procreation for our undivided attention has, over the last century, dwindled in importance to become a rather banal activity requiring little thought, imagination or forward planning. However, for a time, lockdown – through a combination of overstretched conventional supply networks, a decimation of the hospitality sector and the removal of almost all other distractions – re-elevated the task.

According to a YouGov survey carried out in April 2020, 19 million Brits said that they had been cooking more from scratch since lockdown began. 6% of Britons, that’s around three million people, said that they had tried a veg box scheme or ordered food directly from a farm for the first time. 

In the UK, over 63% of all of our grocery shopping is done via the four largest supermarket groups: Tesco’s, Sainsbury’s, ASDA and Morrison’s. What unites all of these is their effort to supply everything a household could possibly need under one roof.

Self-service supermarkets sprang to life in the early 1950s just after the second world war, an event that the media cannot tire of drawing dubious parallels with during the COVID lockdown. When they first opened, people were alarmed by the lack of personal interaction they had with the suppliers of food, however, they soon became symbols of new modernity and freedom of choice. Any sceptics were quickly converted by lower prices and convenience.

Supermarket groups went on to become the dominant force in the food supply chain, squeezing producers of agricultural products as they competed aggressively with one another on price. Before supermarket price wars, it was commonplace to have your milk delivered each day directly from the farm by an electric milk float, a trend that is now back on the rise.

The effects of COVID-19 however meant that supermarkets started to lose their grip on the battle for convenience. The big grocers experienced a rush in demand when lockdown measures were enforced in March but became quickly overwhelmed. Now, as we enter a second national lockdown, newspapers are already reporting scarce delivery slots in the run up to Christmas. These difficulties are likely to be compounded by stock shortages due to boarder chaos after the UK leaves the European Union on December 31st.

 Now, therefore, should be the time to look to buy direct from our local suppliers. With the lazy convenience of a one-stop supermarket trip removed, there is an opportunity to look elsewhere to stock our larders. By taking time to do this, it is likely that you will find better quality food as well as a but a better approach to food shopping.  

 When the animals that are reaching maturity now at Lyons Hill Farm were born, we thought that they were headed for the kitchens of top London restaurants. Like so many other businesses however, we have been forced to adapt in order to survive. Buy buying one of our nose to tail boxes of rare breed beef, you will not only have a chance to experience restaurant quality produce in your own home (at a time when visiting your favourite restaurant is off the cards). We hope that it will also provide a connection to food production that no supermarket or butchers shop could ever provide.

By focusing meal planning on fewer but better ingredients we also hope that it can ensure less food goes to waste. Lockdown led to a greater appreciation for food, not just as a source of sustenance and enjoyment but also as a relaxing pastime. Cooking hearty slow cooked stews will not only nourish you and your household in a delicious and satisfying way, it will fill your home with comforting smells, easing the anxiety of the coming months.

Removing the cost-cutting middlemen and going direct to the source to buy food is also a step on the path towards redistributing the balance of power in our food supply chain, creating a fairer system for farmers. Tesco’s plan to pay out £635m in dividends to shareholders at the end of this year is, in part, a result of their increased fortunes as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. A more thoughtful approach to how we gather food could instead see that money going directly into the hands of the people who feed us.