Is buy local really best?

The NBR reports that New Zealand exporters will be hit by Woolworths’ Australia’s plan to stop importing vegetables for its own-brand frozen products.

The decision was driven by consumer demand for locally produced food.

This is a trend among better-off consumers everywhere and on the surface it’s appealing.

It’s not only charity which starts at home, business can too.

Why wouldn’t you support local businesses, employing local people, using local goods and services?

Local produce would be better wouldn’t it – fresher and more trusted?

The freshness argument doesn’t always stack up. Frozen and canned goods which are processed within a very short time of being harvested can be more nutritious than unprocessed fruit and vegetables which deteriorate more between picking and plate.

On the surface the other arguments make sense but the buy local campaign doesn’t take account of other factors including availability and price.

Local produce isn’t always at its best or available when it’s wanted nor is it always the most reasonably priced. Price might not matter to some people but it is the largest determining factor for many shoppers.

Australian producers will, at least at first, benefit from Woolworths’ buy local policy but there are risks for them too.

The supermarket wars which have depressed milk prices on that side of the Tasman could happen to other fresh produce.

Then there’s the hypocrisy problem for those producers who are exporters too.

They can’t argue in favour of buying local at home when they also want people in other places to buy their produce too.

The buy local policy will give Woolworths a marketing advantage but like a lot of policies based on emotion it might not be in the best long term interests of either producers or consumers.

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