Downturn hits farmers' markets

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Farmers' markets are falling out of fashion. Sales fell by £5m to £220m last year, according to a survey of ethical shopping by the Co-operative Bank.

There are 500 farmers' markets in England, offering city dwellers the chance to buy seasonal food direct from producers. Although they are acknowledged to offer excellent produce, they are often more expensive than supermarkets.

Until last year, farmers' markets were growing year on year and jumped 7 per cent, from £210m, in 2006. The Co-op said the two per cent fall in 2007 was probably one of the first signs that the credit crunch had hit shoppers at the end of last year. Despite the decline, the Co-op said it believed that ethical shopping would continue to increase during the downturn because some environmental products have become part of the mainstream.

The Government has urged shoppers to buy energy-saving bulbs and domestic appliances, which rose4 per cent and 58 per cent respectively. Overall, ethical spending rose from £630m in 2006 to £707m in 2007, the Co-op said. Sales of meat approved by the RSPCA Freedom Foods scheme leapt by 56 per cent while Fairtrade sales intended to help developing nations jumped 61 per cent to £458m.

An 18 per cent fall in sales at charity shops, from £224m to £184m was put down to the rise of cheap clothing at fashion stores.

Dick Parkhouse, managing director the Co-operative Bank, said: "Government intervention, which promotes energy efficient products such as boilers, white goods and more recently lightbulbs, is underpinning these markets ensuring that they continue to grow.

"This report shows that bold Government action can stimulate markets, save consumers' money and protect the environment."