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Food Affordability, Access and Security: Their Implications for Scotland's Food Policy - A Report by Work Stream 5 of the Scottish Government's Food Forum




What Is Access Defra describe Access as the transportation and food distribution system which gets food to where it's needed. A further description is the ability for all members of society to obtain sufficient food for healthy living. 106Improving access is however not simply an issue of geography and while it is influenced by price this seems unlikely to be the major issue for all but the most disadvantaged of the food poor. Access has strong community elements. Like affordability the issues relating to access seem likely to change with time and will have particularly important effects at the level of the individual consumer. It also highlights the importance of "bottom up" community lead initiatives which are perhaps of the greatest importance in providing access to those who would otherwise not have a secure supply of food which they could access on a sustainable basis.

5.1 Food Access in Scotland

The Complexity of Access One of the priority areas identified by The Scottish Diet Action Plan ( SDAP) in 1996 which aspired to improve the nation's eating habits was to tackle poor food access 107. The SDAP identified four major interlinking barriers to improving individuals' access to food: physical accessibility, affordability, culture and skills. Limitations in one or more of these four key areas may make it more difficult for vulnerable groups to obtain and consume a healthy diet. In its very simplest form, adequate access is thus the ability for all members of society to obtain sufficient food for healthy living. The Scottish Government have already committed to increase access to healthy choices, particularly for those on low incomes and to provide support, education and skills development to allow people to break through the barriers of food availability and affordability. 108 Physical access is commonly among the least of issues for the population as a whole but for some groups such as the elderly and the disabled it can be the major limitation. Physical retail access is the range and quality of food available in shops that people can actually reach, whether by foot, public transport, or by car 109.

5.2 General Retail Access

Use of Supermarkets In Scotland, retail access is primarily via the 4 major supermarkets which provide around two hundred stores spread around the country. A Food Access study carried out by White et al.(2004) 110 in Newcastle showed that 77% of a representative sample of shoppers in Newcastle did their main food shopping at a multiple supermarket, 14% in a discount supermarket, 3% in a department store and 2% in their local shops. Internet shopping at this time was used by 0.5% of respondents; market stalls were used by less than 0.5%.

In terms of the social and demographic characteristics of those using the main types of food stores, there were strong socio-economic trends. More affluent and better educated groups were more likely to use multiple supermarkets and less affluent groups were more likely to use discount supermarkets and other types of stores. Single parents and single adult households were more likely to use discount supermarkets and less likely to use multiple supermarkets, as were those on benefits, in older age groups and retired, and non-white ethnic groups.

FSAS Food Access Study A study funded by the Food Standards Agency Scotland ( FSAS) on Accessing Healthy Food 111, outlined differences in the accessibility to affordable sources of healthy food and described the links to the social dimensions of affluence-deprivation and urbanism-rurality. The study identified 9 survey areas (sentinels) to represent different socio-economic environments. The detailed maps of the sentinel sites highlighted the high level of local variation in retail provision. More deprived areas have a greater density of general food stores, particularly smaller stores, than more affluent sentinels.

In each sentinel, all food shops were visited and the presence and the prices of 35 items in a healthy eating indicator shopping basket ( HEISB) were recorded. In the large stores and some of the medium sized stores, a full range of HEISB items was available with the small stores generally stocking around half of the products in the basket. The number of foods available per shop was weakly negatively correlated with deprivation, so as deprivation increased, the number of HEISB foods available in stores fell. Quality of fruit and vegetables was found to be better in larger general stores, with small stores and deprived areas having the greatest proportion of poor quality products. Availability of vegetables decreased with deprivation, but fruit tended to be relatively more available in the deprived areas. In addition, stores in island (mixed) and deprived areas had the shortest opening hours.

The FSAS study concluded that most retailers and consumers should be able to adjust to the local environment. However, vulnerable consumers, such as the elderly and infirm or disabled individuals, carers, and those without transport, (including for example some mothers with young children), are less likely to be able to adjust to the current retail environment. Some individuals and families may have found it easier to rely more on fast food outlets which were more likely to be found in deprived areas 112 and which tend to provide more energy dense and less healthy food. 113


37) The Retail sector should be used as a key lever for promotion of healthy eating. This might be used as criteria to assist the granting of planning permission. In addition it is important that planners require good provision of small shops in all new housing developments.

5.3 Rural Access

Mapping Retail Provision in Remote Communities As part of the FSAS Food Access Study a food map of Scotland was produced. This map indicated an extensive network of food shops in all socio-economic environments in Scotland. Levels of accessibility varied considerably with an estimated 250,000 people in Scotland living more than 1 km away from a large or a medium sized store, and an estimated 3 million living within 1 km. Figure 10 shows both the geographical location of food stores in Scotland and the urban-rural classification map. It is apparent that the large food stores are concentrated in urban areas of Scotland, whilst in some remote rural areas they are absent altogether. Smaller stores seem to cover most of remote rural Scotland. The FSAS study found that the availability of the HEISB in small stores was higher in more remote areas than in urban areas, probably due to the presence of fewer medium and large stores in these areas.

Food Access in the Islands A study linked to the FSAS Food Access Survey 114 has recently examined food access from the consumer perspective in a remote deprived area (Western Isles of Scotland). Fifty six semi-structured interviews were conducted concentrating on household access, buying strategies, food stockholding and meal planning and particular issues for low income families or groups. Participants' perceptions of retail provision were found to be generally favourable, despite the limited choice of stores available. Inconsistent availability of products in store was found to be one of the most frustrating aspects of shopping in the Western Isles, this made planning and budgeting difficult, particularly with regards to fresh produce.

Supply Routes to the Rural Areas Consumers in remote areas accepted that they may have to travel some distance to a food store due to the location in which they live though this is the trade off for living in safe communities with scenic countryside. Most participants had access to a car for food shopping and for those without a car, social networks such as friends and family were important, providing lifts and enabling them to access stores. Those using a voluntary organisation run shopping bus service found this service particularly useful. Community retailing networks are also important to food access in rural situations. (Box 14 )

Box 14 The Community Retailing Network

From small communities seeking to retain their local shop, post office or petrol pumps to larger urban areas trying to provide better access to affordable, fresh, healthy food - community ownership can offer a sustainable, long-term solution. The Network aims to support and develop community owned retailing by:

Supporting existing community owned shops and retail enterprises , Helping to set up new ones, Sharing knowledge and good practice and Promoting and representing community retailers

Alternative food networks such as local produce sales, farmers markets and home produced food were used in conjunction with the conventional food retail supply chain in order to meet the needs of participants. Food intakes measured in a small convenience sample provided no evidence that intakes were different from the UK population as a whole. In fact, there was some indication that intakes of fresh fruit, vegetables and fish in this group may be slightly higher than the rest of the population8, 115i.

Figure 10 - Food Stores Map (2006) and Scottish Government Urban Rural Classification Map (2007-2008)

Figure 10 - Food Stores Map (2006) and Scottish Government Urban Rural Classification Map (2007-2008)

Source: John Dawson et al, 2008; The Scottish Government, 2008


38) In order to improve access to affordable healthy food in rural areas the FSAS/ SG should consider the value of commissioning a study to:

a) Map out the geographical spread of home delivery in Scotland (Commercial and Community based schemes); and

b) Explore the future potential of working in partnership with supermarkets, C sector stores and other partners to examine the use of broadband access and new technology to increase food access in remote and rural areas in Scotland.

39) The availability of healthy food at reasonable cost is a particular problem in the Highlands and Islands. Government should investigate how the costs of the transport of healthy food to the Highlands and Islands might be subsidised as a means of reducing the prices. This could include assisting current businesses and supporting new businesses in rural areas operating mobile shop schemes for food. Schemes such as those currently operating on the Isle of Skye could be extended in their coverage across Scotland.

5.4 Access for more vulnerable consumers

Who are the Vulnerable? As highlighted in Section 5.2, vulnerable consumers, such as the elderly and infirm or disabled, carers, and those without transport, including some mothers with young children, are less likely to be able to adjust to the current retail environment. However, the make up of the most vulnerable in society with problems of retail access and the extent of the problems they face, and they can best be supported, is unclear. There are increasing numbers of older people living in their own homes who are at significant risk of undernutrition 116. The quality of the diet is therefore extremely important to ensure that both macronutrient and micronutrient requirements are met. Further analysis of the LIDNS117 data found that older men and in particular older men who live alone may be at particular risk of an inadequate diet 118

Support services are often put in place to help meet the nutritional needs of older people who are unable to shop or prepare food themselves. There will be an increasing demand for such services in the future due to the expected increase in the numbers of older people living alone and requiring additional help.

The Scottish Government have already committed to investigating the nutritional needs of free living older people and mapping current interventions 119. It is essential to emphasize the importance of these actions, as there is a lack of evidence available at present to demonstrate that the nutritional needs of these vulnerable consumers are being met. It is important to optimise the food safety, nutritional status, health and wellbeing of older people to allow them to stay in their own homes for as long as possible as addressing this inequality could potentially reduce further long term health and care costs. This may need a variety of approaches such as adequate training in nutrition for home helps, a more effective meals on wheels service, and support for community healthy lunch provision. This could be linked to opportunities to purchase food which could then be delivered to the homes of older people.


40) As discussed in the SDAP action is still needed to bring the facilities of the major stores within easy reach of consumers without transport. With increasing numbers of older people in the population, the need for additional help with retail access is likely to rise. Options for support for this section of society should be explored by Government in partnership with the retail sector.

41) Pensioner food poverty should be dealt with in a way which parallels fuel poverty.

42) The groups most vulnerable to problems with food access and affordability in our society are unclear. Establishing the demographic characteristics and needs of this vulnerable group in Scotland should be a significant research priority.

43) The Scottish Government should consider further actions to support the provision of safe, effective and adequate food related services for older people living in the community who require additional support.

5.5 Internet Access

Broadband and Access Internet access is an important prerequisite to facilitate online supermarket shopping. According to Scottish Household Survey (2007) 120 the proportion of households with home Internet access has seen a gradual increase year on year. Overall, 57% of Scottish households report having home Internet access in 2007. Households in the 15% most deprived areas of Scotland are much less likely than those in the rest of Scotland to have home Internet access, at 36% and 61% respectively. The proportion of households with home Internet access is higher in rural areas than in small towns and urban areas. For example, only 54% of households in large urban areas report having Internet access at home, compared with 67% of households in accessible rural areas.

Electronic selling seems likely to become increasingly important to food access in rural situations. Getting maximum value from such technologies in the future may require government intervention to assist in the development of community networks and the hardware needed to exploit them. Scotland currently has over 99% broadband availability. The current Broadband Reach Project is addressing the remaining (less than) 1%. Scottish Government is currently committed to provide basic broadband, defined as 512Kbps, to 100% of known demand by May 2009. This is to be welcomed and has the potential both to improve the accessibility of food and to contribute to climate change.

Prices and income will always influence access but there are ways of reducing their impact. It is clear that electronic marketing is beginning to have and will have a major impact in the medium term. As a consequence of it's potentially lower overheads it will allow new players to enter the market. It has the potential to increase the role of the voluntary sector and to facilitate direct sales mechanisms e.g. electronic farmers markets, in delivering healthy affordable food, especially to the food poor. In order that its benefits are shared with the food poor and those in remote rural situations there may be a need for government to act so that broadband and subsequent technologies are universally available on an individual basis or through community mechanisms.

Electronic Hubs Developments of this type (Box 15) have the potential to reduce the price of food to those in remote rural situations where at the current time a basket of healthy food is around 25% more costly than in other areas 121 but their major contributions seem likely to be through increasing access and quality and through a reduction in GHG's as a result of reduced car travel.

Box 15 Larder Bytes: An electronic approach to Shopping

LarderBytes.com is a virtual organisation that manages numerous local food supply chains from producer to end customer, providing a technology service to our members. LarderBytes.com is owned by Sustain berry CIC a not for profit Community Interest Company. We have over 15 years experience in developing supply chain technology and have spent the last 3 years building a system to facilitate the distribution of local food. LarderBytes.com is the catalyst for local food producers and distributors that together form a national food network, incorporating a number of smaller regional networks within a single structure. It is our aim to deliver products into homes and businesses in an effective and efficient manner supporting our network of local producers. LarderBytes.com provides the overarching systems that create and manage the food supply chains. Much of the LarderBytes.com network is focused on providing solutions to ethical issues surrounding the production, distribution and consumption of food.

The concept behind Larder Bytes is simple. It uses a virtual outlet to bring together producers and consumers. Approaches of this type have the potential to reduce some of the down sides of the closure of rural shops and Post Offices.

The principle significance of this new approach is that the quantity and choice of foods delivered meet the needs of the consumer instead of the specifications set by a remote stock control unit. As a result it can contribute to a reduction in food waste at source. It can liberate time and permit food shopping to be done from the home without the need for travel. It has the potential to provide to those living in rural areas the advantages which the urban population have available to them through supermarket delivery services. Internet-based marketing removes the need for excessive packaging, lowering waste; and the transit system enables supply chain logistics to be optimized, reducing food miles, and cost and traffic congestion.

Food Hubs and the Vulnerable Local food hubs have the potential to aid vulnerable groups and those living within remote rural communities. A number of these have come into being as a direct result of Post Office closures and the need by rural organisations, such as the Churches, to take on the running of such facilities which then have the basis to become rural food distribution hubs (Box 16) 122. The value of this approach has recently been recognised by the Westminster Government who have asked " Charities and public bodies to get over their squeamishness about giving money to religious groups as they are often best placed to run services because they good buildings, willing workers and knowledge of their areas." 123

Box 16 The changing Post Office as a basis for novel food supply options

Recent changes in the organisation of and the number of outlets provided by the Post Office have to be seen in the context of other changes which have been occurring in the rural sector and in society as a whole. Centralisation and cost efficiencies as processes have resulted in the loss of independent shops, traditional pubs and many other facilities in all societies. Arguably these have had their greatest effect in the remote rural sector. Through its change programme the Post Office has responded to a reduction in Government funding although the changes have resulted in the loss of many outlets valued by local communities. On a more positive note the Post Office has expressed a willingness to work in partnership with community organisations, like churches, so as to allow such organisations to have a significant role in the provision of Post Office services. This presents a real opportunity for such organisations to provide an additional service to their communities. Significant dialogue has occurred between the Post Office and a range of organisations in England. This has resulted in the development of a series of guidelines for the provision of hosted Post Office services in venues such as Churches and village halls. Much in these guidelines is applicable to Scotland although differences in the legal systems and in the organisation of churches make it important for the Post Office to recognise the need to talk more widely to organisations in Scotland.

Information from organisations such as churches who had taken on the hosting of a Post Office showed that it was both viable and an appreciated community service. The provision of services from the Post Office could act as a basis for churches to take on the provision of other services for their communities. Companies, such as Sustain Berry, operate electronic hubs which put the suppliers of local foods in contact with customers who may wish to collect their goods from a church when using Post Office services. The church may wish to provide facilities so that those with out internet access at home can use church IT equipment. It is clear that such services will become more prevalent over coming years and so development of this type could be an additional service to rural communities.

5.6 Extending the role of the Farming sector

Figure 11 The farming potential of Scotland

Figure 11 The farming potential of Scotland

Working within our Limitations The ability of Scotland to produce food is limited by its soils and climate. Figure 11 indicates that the most productive agriculture is restricted to a small proportion of Scotland. While these limitation are both real and unlikely to change in a very major way even as a result of climate change the success of crofting in the Crofting Counties indicates the potential for approaches to agriculture which may be very different to conventional crop or animal production.

The Role of the Traditional Estate The continuing existence of large estates is a function of Scottish history. The key decisions for an estate tend to differ from those of a farm. At the farm level the key decision is what crop to grow or which animal enterprise to employ.

At the estate level the key issue is often whether to farm or to use the land in an alternative manner e.g. for field sports or for forestry. This results in the traditional estate being important to the maintenance of the Scottish soil carbon base. In addition in recent year's farms and estates have developed a range of different approaches to direct selling which have the potential to increase access to quality food. A significant element in this approach has been through re-connecting with consumers. Their ability to do this, especially through public events such as the "Big Tent" event in Fife and through interpretation is important to reconnecting urban consumers with food production. Many of them have also tried new approaches which have often depended on the involvement of their local communities drawing a range of new approaches onto the estate and an increase in the direct processing of crops on the farm. It is important that government monitors such developments and ensures that approaches which can help local production, access and engagement are not blocked by an over rigid application of planning legislation.

Box 17 provides an example of this approach.

Box 17 The contribution of the Traditional Scottish estate to Scottish Food Culture

The Falkland Estate provides an excellent example of a Victorian country estate with many interesting monuments, sculptures and natural features, such as waterfalls. The Estate is best known for its period as the Royal Hunting Park of the Stuart Kings from the fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries. Professor John Bruce, who had amassed a fortune in the British East India Company, assembled the estate lands in 1821-26, and began a series of improvements to the Palace, the farms and the grounds. In 1887 the Estate and the Keepership of the Palace were bought by JohnPatrick Crichton Stuart, the 3rd Marquess of Bute. He set about the studious restoration of the Palace. Falkland Centre for Stewardship cares for some 120 acres at the heart of Falkland Estate that is rich in wildlife, history and activity today.It also works with the local community, an assortment of partners and a band of dedicated volunteers to revitalise the estate and inspire good stewardship of land. Falkland Farm: an exemplary organic farm is committed to soil quality, biodiversity, Research/monitoring. On farm processing such as bread from the estates own wheat and porridge from its own oats are current enterprises. It is establishing a Grain Mill for hulled oats, grinds wheat for flour that will allow us to develop a Falkland brand for some products and do some limited processing on site. Barley from the farm will be sent to Black Isle Brewery who will then produce a festival beer for next years Big Tent Festival (July 2009).

Box 18 Scottish Farmers markets

The definition of a Scottish Farmers' Market is a market in which farmers, growers and producers from throughout Scotland sell their produce direct to the public. All foods/products sold should have been grown, reared, caught, brewed, pickled, baked, smoked, or made/prepared by the producer. Local growers and producers take personal pride in the food they bring to their Farmers' Market and want you to enjoy it. The emphasis is on freshness, quality and value for money, Buying locally means you can ask how the food is produced and grown and at the same time customer feedback is appreciated by the producer. Buying locally also reduces food miles and the stages in the food chain from fork to plate. It puts money back into the local rural economy thereby sustaining and creating jobs.

Over the recent past individual farms have developed a range of approaches to increasing both their contacts with the public and their direct food sales. The farm shops of the 1970s and 1980s were followed by the development of farmers markets (Box 18). The development of farmers markets has continued both in terms of the number in Scotland but also in terms of the range of foods which they make available. The most recent new development is the significant investment in the electronic marketing of farm produced produce (Box 19).

All of these approaches seem likely to develop further with time. Most seem unlikely to provide cheaper food but they are a means of improving choice in rural areas and so in providing better access. In all cases the major contribution of these direct selling methods is likely to be through the provision of locally produced food and through re-connecting producers and consumers.

Box 19 A Novel small farm approach to production and distribution

At Whitmuir Organics we are passionate about 'making food miles better' and 'growing for people we know'. And we're a small farm. So we're building a network of customers and supporters within a twenty mile radius. Our farm shop is open seven days a week supplying our own fresh meat, vegetables and eggs together with a wide range of organic groceries, toiletries and wine.

We deliver large meat orders within our area, and we do have a regular delivery run for supporters in Edinburgh, where we make up individual orders including vegetables, eggs, meat and other specialities from the farm shop

While these approaches increase access in areas where it may be limited they also have a role in urban areas of restoring the connection between the consumer and the producer which has been lost in our increasingly urban society. It is important that developments of this type continue to be refreshed.


44) Farmers Markets have been successful in both giving consumers access to locally produced food and in promoting dialogue between producers and consumers. Government needs to investigate what might be done to further develop the Farmers Market concept. This would necessitate surveys of where farmers markets are held, what is currently sold at farmers markets and its affordability. From this produce guidance on how to set up a successful farmers market to encourage the sale of local, healthy, affordable food and how to encourage more Scottish businesses to sell affordable food at farmers markets.