Posts Tagged ‘cheap food’

More food scares coming to a supermarket near you!

Cheap, and nasty?

Cheap, and nasty?

Thank you Tracy from Pigbusiness for mentioning BigBarn on last night’s Channel4 News. The horse meat scare has not gone away yet and is a classic example of how corporates and a very long supply chain are not good for us.

Findus was bought by a private equity company from Nestle in 2000 with the objective to make profit. Either by avoiding tax or by cutting cost. Managers all along the supply chain for frozen lasagna, were instructed to cut cost and, I would guess, special checking procedures were also cut. So scares like horse meat were bound to happen.

The BigBarn local food map

The BigBarn local food map

And many predict, will continue to happen as other ingredients are tampered with, or in time, changed to reduce cost. A number of experts, for instance, are very worried about the quantities of anti-caking agents used in the manufacture of ready meals. These contain nasties such as sodium aluminosilicate that, some say, cause dementia.

The fantastic news is that there is a better way, and not expensive. COOK local ingredients. You can ask the producer questions about how the food you buy has been produced and know that because his local reputation is at stake, he will tell the truth.

Fiona at the Loch Arthur Farm Shop

Fiona at the Loch Arthur Farm Shop

Your local food will not have the cost of; a very long supply chain where every participant has taken a margin, haulage costs, marketing, fat cat salaries, packaging and Tesco markup.

I would expect most people will be a able to make a lasagne using local minced beef for not much more that the Findus product. Or cheaper if lentils are added to the meat sauce mix!

All we need to do, as a nation, is change our attitude to buying food, and cooking. Enjoy getting the story of your food from your butcher or local producer. And cooking is not a drudge. Let’s all get in the kitchen to create and celebrate!

New BigBarn ‘About us’ video

Here is our new ‘About us’ video to explain why we exist, what we believe, do, and why.

Our ‘Mission’ in modern business language.

We are often told that there is too much on our home page, our banner does not say what we do, our map is complicated and our blogs too controversial. So we will be making some changes, and as you are part of our community (you can read more about this here), we welcome your feedback below or to

Are we too late to help local producers and retailers?

Have we all become too addicted to the supermarket? Loyalty schemes, special offers, convenience, and perception of value?

What would make people change? Cost, convenience, quality, responsibility to community?

To encourage change: Our ‘£’ flag on icon shows hundreds of farm shops, butchers, etc on BigBarn are cheaper than the supermarket, do you believe that?

A video flag helps producers tell their story and show what is different and special about them.

People can make money from growing your own with our Crop for the Shop initiative.

Is this enough to encourage more people to switch to buying their weekly food needs locally? And leaving the other goods for the supermarket, once a month?

Your feedback is welcome. And please send this to your friends.

Will the cloud of the coming Food Price Crisis have a silver lining?

The threat of the coming Food Price Crisis increased as further bad news broke concerning the drought in America.

As covered in our previous article Food Prices rises may help to change consumer habits and raise awareness to the failings of the modern, big is best, food industry. In some cases expensive food, or empty shelves may change a whole culture with dramatic positive outcomes.

When the USSR stopped supplying Cuba with fertilizer, fuel and chemicals, the whole population started growing food organically with incredible results. Here is a very good video with the whole story:

This ‘forced’ change, to farmers and consumers, has been a huge inspiration for organic farming and proved to many that the world could feed itself without oil, chemicals and fertilizer, from small farms, and improve diet and a sense of community.

Food growing is becoming a very popular way of building communities and food security. A recent initiative in New York has a ‘tripple bottom line’, increasing availability of fresh food, giving problem kids a purpose and away from crime, and improving diet.

Again a great, and shorter, video, to watch here. You will love the fast talking teacher!


At BigBarn we have been working with a school in Leicester building mini allotments outside 2 primary school classrooms. Funded by the Lottery our team has taught the kids all about growing, cooking and eating the produce. And any left over produce will be sold through local shops opting in to our Crop for the Shop initiative.

The project has been a huge success with incredible enthusiasm from all the children. Case studies are being written up for other schools to follow, and we hope to see all those involved leave school with the knowledge of, how to grow food, make healthy meals at very low cost and make money from selling the ‘crop’ as well as perhaps the foods they have cooked! Another tripple bottom line?

So if the Food Price Crisis gets people to read about, value and implement, these projects and ideas, and government to change there food policy from, ‘big is best’ to ‘small is beautiful’, there will be a big silver lining.

Supermarkets are amazing, but slowly killing us, and a sustainable food industry

Supermarkets are amazing, a massive range of goods, all in one place with convenient access. They have however decimated the farming industry and separated us from producers with increasingly worrying consequences.

To me they are like alcohol, very addictive but if taken to often could kill. Like a decent ale, supermarkets can be very satisfying.

But watch out for the hangover. It is a well known fact that on average, for every £1 spent on food in a supermarket the farmer only gets 9p. This has already led to a large percentage of farmers selling up or giving up fruit and veg growing and switching to grain.

Coupons and special offers do not seem to effect supermarket profit so can’t be that special. More and more aisles and TV ads are devoted to salty ready meals, and some children do not know that milk comes from a cow, or apples grow on trees.

Like alcohol dulling our senses supermarkets dull our food buying. We just grab it off the shelf instead of thinking, touching, smelling and discussing what is best with the producer. This kills what little enthusiasm the average Brit has for food and must lead to a deteriorating diet as more people switch from seasonal food to ready meals.

We need to break our addiction and get enthused.

We need to cut down our supermarket visits. OK, a visit once a month to stock up on washing powder and tins is fine. For our weekly food needs we should reconnect with local producers communicate and encourage further production. Or even join the food industry and grow our own, join a local food growing scheme and trading via our Crop for the Shop scheme.

This will save most people money, as buying direct cuts out all the middle men margins, (and avoids the supermarket special offer temptations), and returns money back to the local economy to encourage further production. More people become enthused about food and in so doing eat seasonal fruit and veg, those who grow will also get ‘digging’ exercise all improving health.

Like cutting back on alcohol changing an addictive shopping habit is very difficult but very satisfying.

For more on how to break the supermarket habit, here is a previous blog.

Incredible, Incredible Edible. How to build a LOCAL Food Industry?

Rainbow over Todmorden. Run down Cotton & Wool Milling town to thriving food centre

I was lucky enough to spend a day with some of the team from Incredible Edible Todmorden (IET) and see how food can build a happier, healthier community. And perhaps, a LOCAL food industry by stimulating demand and supply.

Not just building a community that is growing and eating better food, but one where people care rather than vandalise, volunteer to take part, and some, even enthused to set up a food business, creating jobs and income for the local economy.

Raised veg bed at Todmorden Railway Station car park

If the IET team have their way Todmorden will eventually become food self sufficient in a part of the country known for hill farming rather than horticulture. This is a food community built by increasing demand first then building supply from within the community.

If a local food industry can be built here the whole country could follow and see a large percentage of the £120 billion spent with supermarkets diverted from corporates to local communities

Back to my trip. Following in the footsteps of HRH Prince Charles and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall I met with many of the team at Incredible Edible Tod and was given a fantastic tour of the town and new “green route” for schools and tourists.

Todmorden Police station with raised bed ready for 2012 planting

For those not familiar with IET it is an initiative that started to raise awareness to fresh food by, in simple terms, planting fruit and veg all over town and encouraging locals to help themselves. “Help yourself to a cabbage as you leave the station”!

The team of volunteers has ‘gorilla gardened’ all over Todmorden planting fruit and veg wherever they can including, the police station, outside the Health Centre, and even between the graves in one of the cemeteries.

Locals help themselves and hundreds contribute and volunteer for work parties to weed and plant out. Schools are including ‘food’ in the curriculum and restaurants have recognised that adding a local product to the menu increases sales of that dish. Some of the team even run street cookery demonstrations showing how easy it is to make great meals from local food. Click here to see a video of Michaela at our new KIS Cookery video channel.

Brussel Sprouts between the graves

This demand has led to greater production and ‘foodies’ setting up small food businesses to meet the demand, like Carl an ex IT professional now a self taught cheese maker using local organic milk.

Gorilla gardening is already transforming to taking on farm land, and will increase as IET and demand grows. Farmers will share land (especially small pieces next to towns where huge modern farm machinery can’t reach the corner of a field). As production increases economies of scale, and a short supply chain, will help keep food prices low.

A donation of land now in full production and also used for food growing courses

I set up BigBarn to help build a LOCAL Food industry, so we are now configuring the BigBarn map and admin system for Incredible Edible Tod and many other towns now starting their own Incredible Edibles. Each will be able to add icons to the map and every new food business will be promoted via the Incredible Edible websites, BigBarn, and all 88 other partner websites that have the BigBarn map & MarketPlace within their websites.

We hope that other initiatives like IET will follow suit, share best practice and a new more sustainable, lOCAL, food industry grow and thrive.

Or am I adding 2+2 and getting 678? Time will tell! Watch this space an do your bit by shopping locally to encourage greater production and agricultural diversity.

If local food is cheaper, and better, how do we get more people to switch from the supermarket to buying local.

Many of our previous blogs have talked about saving money by switching from the supermarket to local food producers and small retailers.

Buying seasonal food, direct, means saving money by cutting out the supply chain cost, and not wasting money on ‘temptations’ like DVDs and special offers.

In these austere times you would expect this to be the major factor in getting people to change. Especially when 80% of people say they want to buy local food. So why do only 25% of people actually buy local food, and what will get more to switch?

Perhaps people don’t know they can save money. Or don’t believe supermarkets are more expensive. “How can they be, with all that buying power”, I hear people say.

Another problem is that most people know where their nearest supermarkets are, but not their local producers, farm shops, or friendly butcher.

Answer: There should be more media coverage, social networking, and price comparison in shops.

And a definitive database of local producers and retailers on many websites, so that people can find their local food suppliers. Like the BigBarn Local Food map. This map has now been packaged so that any other website can have it to look as though it is theirs and earn a commission on trade.

Many people also feel safe in the supermarket and are worried that the local butcher or retailer will laugh at them if they ask a silly question.

Answer: Local food suppliers should make a quick You Tube video to show how friendly and enthusiastic they are about their produce. These videos can then be seen on their BigBarn page.

Loyalty schemes
Millions of people are obsessed with their loyalty cards and points.

Answer: People must realise that any loyalty points are given are paid for by higher priced products.

It is great to go to a shop where everything is in one place and you can wheel your trolley back to the car. You can pick up things you did not have on your list.

Answer; Supermarket meat is not good, and veg not fresh, a local producer/small retailer might be closer and cheaper. Do you need, everything every week, switch to buying local every week for fresh food and leave the supermarket to once a month.

Special Offers
When supermarkets buy so much they have to clear their shelves and often have great bargains.

Answer; Yes, sometimes. More often however they use ‘offers’ to get you to spend more than you wanted and many ‘offers’ are actually more expensive; One 185g pack foe 2.75 or two for £5. Just below a 250g pack is not on offer at £2.50 cheaper!

With their big business status, their constant marketing & UK food standards you can trust supermarkets to look after you.

Answer; when offers are not ‘special’ and very little of your money returns to farmers & your community, do supermarkets really deserve your trust? A local business who’s reputation is at stake will reward your trust and will grow more and employ more local people as his/her business grows.

And now for some reasons to shop locally where the supermarkets can’t compete:

The Story
Wouldn’t you like to know the story of the food you buy? What’s in season, how fresh, animal welfare, where and how the animals have been produced, the best cuts of meat for your recipe, how long has that beef been hung,recipes for seasonal fruit & veg, why is that bread so tasty, what’s so special about that product

Many farm shops have animals for the kids to look at, play areas, picnic sites, tractor rides and some even pig or sheep racing. A great day out while doing the boring old shop!

Selling Grow your own
Many local retailers will be happy to sell food that you have grown. This is a great way for small shops to get fresh fruit and veg and for you to join the food industry. Look for rossettes on icon on the BigBarn local food map for BigBarn ‘Crop for the Shop‘ participants.

Events and celebrations
Many farm shops have seasonal food celebrations and events like ‘Apple day’, ‘Asparagus week’ or regular Farmers Markets to meet the local farmers.

So, some great reasons to try your local producers and make the switch. If I have missed any other reasons please comment below.

Supermarket arrogance; picture of asparagus on the back of Tesco vans

By promoting Asparagus on the back of their delivery vans Tesco is telling customers not to worry about food miles, or British seasonal foods. To me, another sign of their arrogance and complacency.

The UK asparagus season is normally from mid April to the end of June, and should be eaten the same day as picked to get the full flavour and goodness. This is true of many other seasonal fruits and vegetables, and is part of the rich variety of tasty nutritious foods available to us all in this green and pleasant land. As many seasonal foods mature they are very often plentiful, and therefor cheap, especially if bought direct from the producer.

The supermarkets would rather we did not buy seasonal food, unless they have them in stock, and can make their usual high margin. Only giving the producer less than 20% of the retail price.

By persuading customers to eat products, like asparagus, all year round they can make their usual high margins and plan their shelf stacking and sales in advance, without having to worry about when seasonal produce is available from local farms.

This is always obvious when English apples are in season, you will see plenty on local trees, but none on the supermarket shelf. A few weeks later some English apples will appear but only about 10 of the 1,000+ varieties we have in the UK. Only those varieties that have a long shelf life meet the supermarket specification.

We consumers really must realise that supermarkets do not care about; 1. supplying us with quality food at the right price, or, 2. giving British farmers a fair price.

They simply want us to become addicted to their loyalty schemes and making as much profit as possible from every shopping basket.

The great news is that most of us have an alternative. There are thousands of other places to buy food on BigBarn’s Local food map. Many places are cheaper than the supermarket, with most promoting local produce that is fresher and more nutritious.

Edible Todmorden, Veg in the Church yard

The tide is turning and there are places where no one shops at the supermarket, and many foods are free, yes free! Like edible Todmorden

In a these austere times what a fantastic way to save money and pull communities together. One of BigBarn’s jobs is to help many more communities follow this initiative with so many positive outcomes, including, cheaper, better, food, improved diet and knowledge of food +++.

Exciting times, as always, your comments are welcome below.

BBC: The end of ‘cheap’ food. BigBarn: Nothing to worry about.


If you listened to Radio 4’s Food Programme today you may be worrying about the end of cheap food and rising prices in the new year.

Don’t worry, just change.

Grain prices have been pushed dramatically higher by increased demand from China and India, stockpiling grain in Saudi Arabia, and cancelled exports due to drought in Russia.

As grain goes up so does meat, as the cost of feed increases. (It takes 8kg of grain to produce 1kg of beef.)

Likewise prices will increase for all dairy products, as cows, need to be fed on grain. And bread, biscuits, and cereals, come from grain.

We are told by the media and the Food Programme that the pain of higher prices is being held back by a huge supermarket price war currently being waged. As usual it is not the supermarkets cutting their margins just their suppliers forced to take a hit. Some suppliers such as Premier Foods have been delisted for trying to increase their prices.

Eventually prices will rise and consumers will have to start making choices. Many will do what the retailers want, and become even more addicted to bargain hunting, like supermarket offers or Pound shop outlets. These people will save very little.


When I say ‘don’t worry, just change’ I mean, change from supermarkets, ready meals, and discount hunting. Avoid any products where a lot of businesses in a supply chain have added a margin

We can all eat very well, for very little. Any Scotsmen will tell you the fantastic nutritional qualities of porridge. Whole Oats boiled in water cost around 5p a portion. We could all survive on 15p a day! And probably be healthier than someone spending £200 per day in fancy restaurants.

We really must get things in perspective and a rise in prices may be good to encourage change, and perhaps improve diet. Change like;
– eating less meat
– cooking with cheaper fresh ingredients, instead of buying expensive, salty, ready meals
– cutting back on biscuits and high sugar foods
– shopping locally where offers will be on fresh produce instead of a BOGOF on something you don’t need
– growing your own for a bit of garden exercise and enthusing the kids to eat fruit & veg
– growing to sell to other people via BigBarn ‘Crop for the Shop


We must not let the forthcoming rise in food prices give the supermarkets a marketing opportunity and chance to increase their profits. I think they are already using the current price war in their long term marketing plan to increase prices and profits in the new year.

So CHANGE! Please pass this on. Use our local food map to find your local shops to buy fresh cheap locally produced ingredients and get digging to allow your veg patch to weather down for next seasons planting. And dust off those cookery books, or join the digital age a watch a video recipe.

Oversupply of Onions BUY NOW!

My ‘onion growing’ cousin told me today that the price of onions has collapsed to about £45/tonne. The supermarkets are selling them at 46p/kg, £460/tonne. Nothing new there!

UK farmers have had very good yields this year so there is oversupply and the price has dropped, lower than their production cost. Helped further by Dutch growers dumping onions on our market. Apparently it is cheaper for the Dutch to send them here at a net price of just £8/tonne than to pay for them to be disposed of! (£8/tonne is 16p for a 20kg bag!)

So, find an onion grower, or ask your local farm shop, using our local food map, and get your recipe books out. Onion soup, Goulash, tart, lasagne, flan, shepherd pie, stews, beef burgers, bolognese, to name a few. Indeed most soups and dishes are improved with onions.

Onions also store extremely well kept in a cool dry place.

This is another example of how the national food industry does not work for farmers or consumers. How many people noticed that the price of onions has dropped in the supermarket, or that farmers will make a loss?

In a local food industry, consumers hear about onions being cheaper and are encouraged to buy more onions, especially if producers add recipe cards to the onion display.

Perhaps more important, by supplying local farm shops and small retailers, farmers are encouraged to grow a wider range of products, rather than specialise, as most do at the moment.

And onions are very good for you, so here’s to a hot soup, warning stew, healthy winter. If you have a great onion recipe please feedback below.

Will big business kill the food industry?

I hate the way big business is killing the dairy industry. Here, is how, and should we be worried?

Big business seems to pick a product, mass produce it, cut production costs, gain market share, then treat it as a cash cow to get as much profit as possible.

Tea, coffee and chocolate are classic examples of this practice. Over the last 20 years the big corporations took over most of the production and distribution of these products. As they cut cost, most of the products became very bland and large profits were made as they gained most of the market share.

People then realised that the primary producers were earning very little and Fair Trade began. In time, thank heavens, small businesses saw the high margins as the opportunity to buy really good products and sell them at reasonable prices, often cheaper than the bland, big brand names.

I see this product life cycle happening in the fresh food industry. The dairy industry is moving towards factory farms, where 1,000 cows will be penned under one roof, this is the cost cutting stage. I bet, to be followed, as above, by a rise in prices as the greedy corporations fix prices and take high margins.

Most of the small dairy farmers in the UK have given up, have converted their dairies to industrial units, and will not convert back. Those that are left are not allowed to sell their best product, raw milk, to local retailers, or, if sell to local people, must suffer extra restrictive regulation.

The pork industry was going the same way and may get there in the USA. See the Pig Business video. I hope it has been stopped in this country by the real demand for ‘free range’ and the many small farmers who successfully sell direct to get a fair price.

And that is how to stop ‘big business’ killing the food industry. By buying direct. Consumers can cut out ‘supply chain’ costs, expose farming practices and influencing change through communication and trade. At the same time many more farmers become profitable as they get a better price and can focus on what the customer wants, rather than the middle man. Meaning product quality rather than a lower price.

So if you don’t want to see the food industry destroy any more farming sectors, like the dairy farmers, use our local food map and buy local. Very often the products are better and cheaper. The onions may family grow, for instance, are currently sold to the local distributor for £130/tonne, 2 days later they are on the Tesco shelf priced at the equivalent of £850/tonne. If we sold direct to consumers and small local retailers at £300/tonne consumers would get them better than half price.

We also have some fantastic artisan tea, coffee and chocolatiers in our MarketPlace and welcome any small producer who takes market share from these bloated big businesses.