Half of UK consumers ‘buy local’ to support small producers, but a third of non-buyers refuse due to higher prices

Despite the progress made by many local and national brands in the UK, there is still work to be done in convincing shoppers to convert from global brands. This is according to IRI’s latest European Shopper Insights Survey, which suggests that common barriers to buying local brands include price, availability of products and limited assortment.

The survey of more than 3,300 consumers from seven European countries, including 500+ in the UK, reveals a move towards more geocentric purchasing, with over half of UK respondents (55%) preferring to buy local brands to help support local and small producers. Other reasons include better quality (46%) and because products taste better (33%). A further 32% cite environmental reasons, such as less pollution from transport.

Although older shoppers show a preference for buying local-only, it is young millennials aged 18-24 who are more inclined to buy international brands, which they perceive to be more innovative and affordable. Over 50% of shoppers in this age group prefer to focus their spend on big brands, with the exception of fresh food,

When UK shoppers were asked why they do not buy local brands, price is a major issue across all age groups, with a third saying it is because local brands are more expensive than big brands. Shoppers also have concerns about lack of availability and limited assortment, with 39% not able to find the products they want, and a quarter (24%) saying they would need to go to other stores to buy them. Significantly, 27% of respondents worry that the brands are ‘unknown’.

Fresh is best

When it comes to macro categories, UK shoppers are most likely to buy fresh food locally, including milk, eggs, yogurt and cheeses, compared to packaged food (10%), frozen food (9%) and personal/beauty care (8%). However, while nearly a quarter (23%) say they prefer to buy local/national fresh food brands, it compares poorly to other European shoppers (29% across all of the European countries).

Olly Abotorabi, Senior Regional Insights Manager at IRI, comments: “Consumers are increasingly aware of the fact that food grown closer to home means fewer carbon emissions, will be fresher and supports the local economy, and as a result we’re seeing local and national brands starting to win consumers’ hearts and minds. In the UK in particular we have a vibrant and innovative ‘local scene’ where challenger brands are emerging as winners, driven by huge amounts of creativity and a desire for authenticity and provenance. Increased uptake of free-from and vegan products and movements like plastic-free and zero food miles are often well embodied by smaller, challenger players.”

IRI’s Abotorabi believes it is an opportunity for both food manufacturers and retailers to capitalise on growing demand for local brands, but believes they must first get the balance right in order to ensure it is a driver for growth.

“We’re seeing more retailers in this country champion local food suppliers in an effort to cut food miles, support local businesses and differentiate their offerings by devoting more store space to local products. But both the retailers and the food producers themselves need to work together to ensure they can convert those who are interested but not yet ‘buying local’ by ensuring the price is right and that shoppers can find the products on shelves before they walk out of the store.

“It’s clear that big brands resonate more strongly with younger, more globally connected shoppers, so there is an opportunity to nurture and develop these connections. However the positive attributes tied to buying local means an increasing number of manufacturers and retailers must not lose sight of the long-term potential to ‘play small and win big’.”