Alternative food networks are drawing increasing numbers of people who are looking to connect with ethical food producers, and the result may be healthier eating for consumers, according to research by the Economic and Social Research Council.
Alternative food programs include items such as:
People who participated in alternative food networks such as these, typically:
- Organic vegetable boxes
- Community gardens
- Farm animal adoption
Consumers often use alternative food networks because they are concerned about the separation of food producers and consumers. Many also say they do not trust supermarkets, or they feel supermarket food is inferior.
- Increased their consumption of fruits and vegetables
- Improved their cooking skills
- Improved their knowledge about food
- Changed their behaviors in relation to other goods, such as household products and clothes
Although many consumers use alternative food networks along with supermarkets, many said they only shopped at supermarkets “out of necessity.” Other key motivations for using alternative food networks included the desire to:
Consumers also value the sense of trust and loyalty that they can establish with a food producer. However, some alternative food producers are concerned about how to maintain this connection as growth continues.
- Reduce food miles
- Use fair-trade goods whenever possible
- Use products with reduced environmental impacts and high animal welfare standards
Meanwhile, alternative food networks may be challenged by supermarkets that are attempting to establish a sense of connection with customers by providing the names of farmers on packaging. Semi-national organic box delivery programs are also rapidly expanding, which could challenge smaller, more local alternative food networks.