A project to map South West England's food supply chains aims to boost the amount of locally-produced food in public procurement.
Researchers will investigate how organisations such as hospitals and schools buy food, while farmers and producers will be interviewed.
The project – involving the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership (HotSW LEP), the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership, Devon and Somerset county councils and the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) – aims to deliver social, environmental, and economic improvements.
Karl Tucker, chair HotSW LEP, said: “This would help shorten supply chains, provide quality, nutritious food for the recipients and deliver a significant economic and social benefit to the region.
“We have lost much of the processing capacity for the produce grown in the region over the past few decades and produce is now being transported long distances to be processed, before potentially returning again.”
Melanie Squires, NFU South West regional director, said: “We have anecdotal evidence from farmers and food processors who tell us that they would love to expand their market by supplying the public sector, but they list a set of barriers to doing so.
“This research will help to uncover those barriers, real or perceived, and make genuine recommendations for future investment or policy change that could open up the public sector for smaller food businesses too.”
A government-commissioned report in July said current UK public procurement of food prioritised cost over quality and was leading to “substandard food”.
The National Food Strategy, led by restaurateur Henry Dimbleby, recommended the government increase the participation of small and local businesses in food procurement.
The report said more than a third of the money hospitals spent on food went on items that were thrown away.
It highlighted a lack of competition and difficulties faced by smaller business because of complex tendering processes.
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