Joanne Denney-Finch, chief executive of food and grocery think tank IGD, has said she is optimistic about the future for local foods and believes that now is the time for local food producers to go for growth.

Speaking at The Regional Food Group for Yorkshire and Humber seminar, Denney-Finch said, "Customers want local foods and local food matters to all the supermarkets. So now is the time for local producers to go for growth because I think the potential market is barely tapped yet. There's still huge scope for growth." 

One key reason for her optimism is that consumers are receptive to local foods. IGD research shows that 96% of consumers believe it is important to have a wide range of English food and 69% say it is very important to them. Also 47% say they buy local food on at least a monthly basis.

Another reason is that retailers need local foods. The UK food and grocery industry is extremely competitive, which is good for shoppers as they get lower prices and better services.  But in such a market there is a growing need for retailers to differentiate themselves from one another. Differentiation is essential if retailers are to attract new customers to their stores. Local foods can help do this.

The third reason Denney-Finch gave is that there is a lot of talent, energy, enthusiasm along with determination and, most importantly, creativity in small and new food businesses. The UK food and grocery industry has always been good at innovation and this is a great asset.

Denney-Finch said that in order to succeed, local food producers should have a unique selling point. Products must stand out from the competition in at least one of the following criteria: taste, availability, freshness, seasonality, convenience, heritage or a new method of production/ packaging.

Pricing must match consumers' expectations; you cannot maintain a higher price just because a product is local. It must offer a clear consumer benefit to support a higher price. Therefore producers must be efficient and work in collaboration with the rest of their supply chain to ensure costs are managed and kept as low as possible.

Producers should also make use of regional food groups to help with promotion and should make sure they understand how regional distribution hubs work.