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Transport»Cross-channel shopping is the ultimate food miles madness

»Wednesday, June 9,2010

How can it make financial or environmental sense for expats living in France to get their groceries delivered from the UK?

Warning: this blog could cause you to choke on your pain au raisin.

As I reported in the Guardian today, there has been a surge in the number of expat Brits living in France buying their food online from UK-based supermarkets.

The strength of the euro against the pound means that it now makes financial sense for many of these Britons with savings or pensions held in pounds to order most of their groceries from Asda, Sainsbury's et al instead of via the local hypermarché or village shop. The delivery firms serving this demand even say they've seen some customers ordering French specialities such as croissants, baguettes and bottles of French wine this way. Don't we live in interesting times?

Let's ignore the obvious debate about why you would want to live in France and not make the most of its world-famous culinary delights and concentrate instead on the fascinating logistics of all this. How is it even possible, for example, that it can be to a shopper's financial advantage to buy a bottle of Bergerac wine from a Sainsbury's in Milton Keynes when that shopper actually lives in Bergerac? Many things seem to have conspired to allow this to be the case: a weak pound, variations in local taxation, and the supermarkets' highly centralised distribution networks being principal among them.

Can you think of any other examples of where our highly globalised world leaves you scratching your head in wonder, if not bemusement? The illogicality of roses and French beans grown in Kenya being airfreighted to shops in Europe and beyond is much discussed, but what other absurdities have you noted?

Cheap labour is, of course, one of the main drivers of this modern-day phenomenon. One tale I once heard that I'm always reminded of by stories such as these is how some of the fish and shellfish caught in the North Sea and North Atlantic is first frozen and despatched to factories in China to be boned and shelled by low-wage fingers before being airfreighted back to the UK to be breaded, packaged and sent off to the supermarkets for sale.

Economic? Apparently so. Environmental madness? Most certainly.





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