Sourcing locally has come to mean less to consumers since the onset of the economic downturn, UK supermarket group Morrisons has suggested.

Speaking at the English Farming and Food Partnership's (EFFP) sixth annual conference yesterday (3 November), Marc Bolland, CEO of Morrisons, told attendees that although local has a meaning, it had "less of a meaning" when the economy went "a bit more south" last year.

"I think local could play a role for certain products but not for all of them. Customers are not always interested in whether their produce is locally sourced. In our Scottish stores we have around 500 products but all are sourced from different suppliers," he said.

He added that the company had always been "close" to farmers and that, as a retailer, it prefers "buying British".

"We are growing, but not at the expense of the suppliers or partnerships. We want to continue support for buying British. We want to be loyal. We want to be fair."

Morrisons, which snapped up 38 Co-operative and Somerfield stores in December, opened 19 of the outlets during the first half of the year.

Bolland said 33 stores are currently trading and suggested that the company still has opportunities for growth.

"If you ask a customer in the South or South West, they may have heard about us but have not been in one of our stores. There are around 40% of households that have not been in one of our refreshed stores. We feel we have to move closer to the customer," Bolland said.

In June, Morrisons unveiled plans to open a 700-acre research farm in Scotland, as part of its wider drive to contribute to the "long-term stability" of farming in the UK.

Bolland told attendees yesterday that the retailer would now like to open a second seasonal farm in the UK to concentrate on arable production.

"We want to make sure we have credible research. If there are initiatives, we are open to it," he said.