Who would have thought that the humble egg would have anything to do with the recession? Yet, eggs have come to epitomise the unexpected impacts of the recession on consumption. Egg sales have risen significantly since the start of the year, offering a cheap form of protein and as an important ingredient for home-made food. As a result of ‘trading down’ consumers have seen their kitchens become a hive of activity again, as we move away from restaurant and pre-cooked meals, to home-made food to save our precious pennies.


Other impacts of the recession include increasing shopper promiscuity as we feel less loyalty to retailers and chose to shop around to find the best deal. A survey by Experian, a retail consultant, shows that ‘more than a quarter of shoppers say they have been more likely to look around for the best deal over the past six months, and 80% say they have become more aware of the price of goods and services.’ Larger supermarkets have been able to count on 80% of their consumers coming back week after week. But recently, they’ve found shoppers getting much smarter and sharper, searching out value. The public has also become less trusting of big businesses – undoubtedly as a result of watching the banking sector crumble, bringing the entire financial system down with it.

Sales of ‘local’ produce from supermarkets have also risen. Asda claims its sales of local produce is up 55% compared to last year. Asda argues that consumers are doing this because of environmental concerns over ‘food miles’ and also as a bid to support local businesses in time of increased job and financial insecurity. However, sales of organic produce have thought to have declined – showing an often contradictory message in terms of environmental concerns – this may, however, be due to the relatively high cost of organic produce. Retailers, possibly as a strategy to regain consumer trust but also to make money from this growing trend, have also turned their focus towards sourcing locally. At the recently held Scottish Parliament Asda stated it was increasing in sourcing from Scottish producers, up from £16m last year towards a target of £25m this year.

What do these trends mean for sustainable development? What does the trend towards local mean for the livelihoods of small farmers in parts of the developing world and what does the fall in demand for organic produce mean for the environment? It might be too early to answer these questions, but monitoring these trends will be vital for understanding how sustainable development can make ensure the net impact of the recession is not a negative one, particularly for producers in the developing world. Dispelling misconceptions about food miles might be one example of ensuring that our growing preference towards local produce does not have unwanted and unforeseen effects.