Statistics released by Defra – the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – show that 13 out or 21 departments have increased the amount of home-grown food they serve. On average, over 90 per cent of the milk, whole eggs, and whole potatoes used come from Britain.
“We’re committed to helping local food producers compete for public sector catering contracts, and it’s great news that they’re increasingly offering the best value,” says food and farming minister Jim Fitzpatrick.
He adds that nearly all of the government’s milk and eggs are British – and more departments are switching to farm assured meat.
“We know that there’s still more that government departments could do, and there are areas where British producers could potentially be supplying more to the public sector. There is also a big market there for local and seasonal producers.”
Although Richard Hirst, chairman of Cambridgeshire-based G’s Growers – the grower cooperative founded by entrepreneur Guy Shropshire – welcomed the news, he said there were still barriers to dealing with the public sector.
GS Shropshire’s doesn’t supply directly into the public sector, but does so through a couple of wholesalers who do.
“The opportunities that [government departments] offer are useful, but like supermarket supply, are not necessarily that easy to deal with,” he says. “Many public bodies want a vast range of produce, and unless one grower has access to that range, it’s difficult to put together as an order.”
Demand is certainly growing from the public sector, though. On average, government departments used seven per cent more British bacon and ten per cent more vegetables such as celery, leeks and lettuce in 2008-9 than in 2007-8.
“It’s important that public procurement supports UK growers where it can. UK supply in season has to be the most environmentally friendly and should provide the best food miles,” says Hirst, before also warning that the tough regulatory and compliance environment in the UK means UK suppliers may not always be the cheapest.
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