Why Buy Local?: The Importance of Buying Local Products

FT Contributor
A price tag that reads "buy local."
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Over the years, buying local has become an established mainstream idea with many supporters including British environmentalist Sheherazade Goldsmith who’s well-known for saying, “Putting even one thing in your shopping basket that’s locally produced or organic makes all the difference. It’s a vote for the future, for animal welfare, for the environment, for your children’s children.”

Buying local may no longer be an insignificant movement, but is it as important as Sheherazade Goldsmith said or has the importance of buying local products simply been overhyped? Why buy local over imported products? This guide aims to highlight what buying from local businesses means for the environment, your community, and your wallet.

The Benefits of Buying Local Goods

The impact on the environment and the community remain two of the biggest reasons why buying local is important to local produce proponents. However, it’s essential to take a holistic approach to fully appreciate what buying local means for the environment and the community.

Eating Locally Helps the Environment

So how does eating locally help the environment? Simply put, local food comes with fewer “food miles.” Food miles is the term used to describe the distance food travels from the place it’s produced to where it’s sold to the consumer.

Due to having fewer food miles, local food reduces the use of fossil fuels, which in turn reduces air pollution and cuts back greenhouse emissions. Imported food, on the other hand, requires more food miles and this translates into higher fossil fuel usage, generating greater greenhouse gas emissions. Despite all this, you need to factor in the whole food life cycle and not just its food miles to calculate the impact of food on the environment.

One study which analyzed the life cycle of food found that while production accounts for 83% of food’s total production and distribution greenhouse emissions, transportation only accounts for 11% of the emissions. This means eating locally ultimately helps the environment because it takes into account the entire life cycle of the food and not just one stage.  

Shopping Locally Helps the Community

How does shopping locally help the community? For starters, it keeps money within the community, thereby boosting the local economy. On average, local businesses return over half of their income to the community in the form of jobs, local spending, and charitable giving.

Secondly, shopping locally helps small businesses increase their profitability since they won’t incur any tariffs or large transportation and distribution costs. This is important, especially because the 2008 financial crisis affected small businesses and the ‘buy local, save local businesses’ idea became even more important.

Also, supporting one local business essentially spreads your support to other local businesses. For instance, when you support local farmers you indirectly support other businesses like restaurants. Building such a network is a great resource for small businesses, which can help cut the need for external funding.

Local vs. Imported Goods: Which Is Better for Consumers?

When it comes to buying any product, regardless of whether it’s produced locally or not, consumers consider things like cost, quality, and safety of the product.

Many consumers look for bargains when they shop. This means they will likely pick cheaper products over more expensive alternatives even if it means forgoing local products. However, although getting bargains is cost-effective, consumers may sometimes have to settle for cheaper products that are of inferior quality.

Safety is also a big consideration among consumers and local products tend to have an edge over imported goods since consumers can better monitor their production and distribution. Nonetheless, local goods don’t come with guaranteed safety and in some cases, imported goods are safer.

Locally Grown Food vs. Imported Food

When it comes to the advantages and disadvantages of local food, one drawback of local food is inconsistent availability. Unlike imported food which is normally available all year, local food tends to be seasonal, which means it may not necessarily be available whenever you want it.

Another drawback of locally grown food is that it normally comes with a hefty price tag. One in-depth look at the cost of locally produced food highlighted how grocery store food costs about half of locally grown food. Local produce tends to be fresh, better tasting, and generally of better quality, but in most cases, consumers tend to see it as a serious splurge compared to the conventional grocery store produce.

Despite the drawbacks, one of the biggest benefits of shopping locally is that locally grown food is considered to be healthier than imported food. Not only is it often pesticide-free, it’s also normally preservative-free since it doesn’t require long trips to be transported. Consequently, locally grown food tends to offer improved nutrition.

Local Retailers vs. Corporate Chains

The choice between buying local versus corporate is normally easier with fresh produce. However, the same cannot be said for products like electronics and appliances which, in most cases, cannot be sourced locally and are normally produced by corporate chains.  

Additionally, for many local producers, products are made on a relatively small scale. Even for things like fashion items, home décor, and furniture that can be produced locally, the cost is usually steep compared to products from corporate chains.

Corporate chains can offer lower prices because they are able to leverage their size to achieve economies of scale which translate into cost savings that are passed on to consumers. However, local retailers who take advantage of business models such as co-ops can also cut their product costs.  

Frugal Local Shopping Tips

With the right approach, you don’t have to break the bank to buy local. The following are some frugal shopping tips you can use.

Find Local Shops in Your Price Range

Search for a local retailer that suits your finances. In most cases, you will find that competing retailers will offer different prices for the same or similar products.

Purchase Local, In-Season Produce

Buy in-season produce: an abundance of produce that doesn’t require transportation over long distances or lengthy storage time pushes down the cost of in-season produce.

For example, when strawberries are in season during spring and summer they retail for an average of $5.23 per kilogram. During the fall and winter months when they are out of season, prices increase to an average of $7.54 per kilogram.

Similarly, when grapes are in season during fall, they cost less — around $4.40 per kilo — but prices increase to over $6 per kilo when they are out of season. Buying in-season produce is an excellent way for you to eat healthy on a budget.

Ask for Discounts

Although this may not work for all businesses, asking for a discount is worth it. The worst that can happen is being told no, but if you’re successful you can enjoy some price cuts. Asking for a discount successfully usually comes down to knowing when and how to ask.

  • Always ask nicely.
  • Look for off-season products that you can get a bargain on. Also, look for products that are close to expiration that you can get a price reduction on.
  • Consider asking for discounts on products that usually have big mark-ups, for example, clothing and furniture.

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