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Column: Everyone can make a positive contribution to the economy by shopping locally

Significant opportunity exists within the indigenous retail sector to generate local spend that would have a powerful impact on our local communities and the economy as a whole, writes Seán Kelly MEP.

Seán Kelly MEP

THE CALL TO ‘shop local’ is a well-worn mantra that has been preached extensively over the past number of years. As consumers we have been repeatedly told that we should, wherever possible, spend locally. Shopping local and buying Irish ensures the quality of our food and keeps our hard-earned euro within the country and our communities.

We know that a strong sense of goodwill exists towards the concept of ‘buying Irish’. Research released by Bord Bia in 2011 found that 85 per cent of shoppers were loyal, or conditionally loyal, towards Irish brands.

These statistics indicate that a significant opportunity exists within the indigenous retail sector to generate local spend that would have a powerful impact on our local communities and the economy as a whole. Buying just two more Irish-produced products on each shopping trip equates to a €300 million opportunity for the Irish economy according to Love Irish Food. Similarly, Guaranteed Irish tells us that a typical Irish household spends on average €16 a week on Guaranteed Irish products. By spending €4 more per week on Irish products or services shoppers have the power to create 6,000 jobs.

The horsemeat scandal and food traceability

The recent horsemeat controversy has underlined the need for greater understanding of where our food comes from. The issue has shown the effectiveness of Ireland’s food traceability standards and system in that a European wide issue was only brought to light by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland. By considering these issues, we can ensure the quality of our food and that our hard earned euro remain within the country to the benefit of the national economy.

The ripple effect of shopping locally should also not be underestimated. The Business Alliance for Local Living Economies reveals that for every €1 spent at a local business, 45 cent is reinvested locally. In contrast, for every €1 spent at a corporate chain, just 15 cent is put back into the local economy. Where does the differential go – overseas, to be reinvested into the national economy of the corporate grocery chain, rather than here in Ireland where it is needed?

It poses the question; while it is legal to export profits, is it morally acceptable? This debate has already been played out in the UK around taxation and perhaps Ireland would benefit from a similar type of debate. The retail sector is a case in point. What level of profit is being exported by the overseas owned grocery chains and why, in the age of transparency, is there very limited transparency in this sector? The Musgrave Group – which is owned and headquartered in Ireland and operates the SuperValu, Centra and Superquinn brands – publishes its profits. If we are to truly understand the impact of buying Irish we should fully understand what the international retailers do with our money, specifically whether it is reinvested in Ireland or shipped overseas to corporate HQ.

The knock-on impact of our spending

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We must look for value for our spend, but also give consideration to the knock on impact of that spend. The influential Blueprint for Ireland’s Recovery report puts small to medium size enterprises (SMEs) at the frontline of economic recovery. The good news is that by being discerning with our money each of us can play a vitally important part in supporting SMEs and by extension, help to kick-start our national economy. Every euro that we spend on an indigenous product or service has a much more widespread impact than simply benefiting the immediate seller. That spend is distributed among the local producer, the delivery service provider, the shop worker, the shop cleaner and a host of other local businesses and services working together in their community. As the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies study reveals, local businesses invest three times more back into the local economy compared to corporate chains.

Quite simply when we buy Irish, our euro stays local and in Ireland – and when we buy imported brands or shop in international outlets a significant portion of our euro is immediately shipped overseas. When we shop locally in family owned firms we are making a positive contribution to our community and by extension to the nation as a whole. When spent in our communities our hard earned euro support and create new, local jobs and enable indigenous Irish businesses to in turn support our communities, charities and sports clubs. In this way each of us can add significantly to where we live and work, and can help to create vibrant, thriving villages, towns and cities.

The economic situation that we find ourselves in can often seem overwhelming, involving astronomical sums. However, every problem or challenge is overcome in small steps. Each of us can make a positive difference and a strong contribution to our recovery by simply practicing savvy shopping. By doing so, our hard-to-come-by euro will remain here at home protecting and generating Irish jobs and enriching our communities, rather than being shipped overseas for the benefit of other countries.

Seán Kelly is the Fine Gael MEP for Ireland South. He tweets at @SeanKellyMEP.

About the author:

Seán Kelly  / MEP

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