Convenience stores have a vital role to play in a more sustainable food delivery system, retailers have heard.

Speaking at the ACS Environment Forum in Manchester, Tom MacMillan of the Food Ethics Council said that UK shoppers now travel a total of 12 billion miles a year to buy food and that local stores should do more to publicise their significant role in reducing this.

“Efficiency gains in the supply chain have been outstripped by rising consumption,” he said. “We hear a lot of discussion about food miles, but shopping miles are significant too. This puts c-stores apart, as more customers walk to the shop.”

MacMillan said that independent retailers must communicate this advantage, both through the political advocacy of groups like ACS, and by demonstrating their role in the sustainability agenda to communities through healthy eating initiatives and support for local suppliers.

Norfolk retailer Nigel Downdney suggested that stores adopt the term ‘independent community retailer’ to descibe their business, and said many were already doing a lot to promote local and healthy food. 

But Jonathan Clarke, who owns a store in Gatley, Manchester, said it was logistically impractical for urban retailers to source from local farmers. “I love fruit and veg,” he added, “it gives good margins and more shopper visits. But it’s not what people want.”