Let the pubs do the flag-waving this year and celebrate England's patron saint's day by stocking more regional - and patriotic - drinks, says Christine Boggis
Concern about food miles and a growing interest in where products come from have been pushing local sourcing up the drinks retailing agenda for some time. Now the cider boom, English wine's growing reputation and mushrooming microbreweries around the country have made it easier than ever for shops to stock drinks made in their region - and what better time to do so than th at festival of all things English, St George's Day
"There is a trend towards localism and anti-globalism - people want local brewers," says Peter Amor, chairman of the Society of Independent Brewers.
He says SIBA's direct delivery scheme builds links between brewers and local communities that ha d been lost through central delivery operations. "Licensees are finding they can put a premium on a local product ," he adds.
Ninety per cent of local brewers now market a bottled beer or have committed to offering one by the end of 2007, according to SIBA. Managing director Nick Stafford says: "Cask ale is our national drink and local brewers are ensuring it thrives with a fantastic array of award-winning beers. Brewers have long been heroes of the local food and drink scene, so raise a glass from your local hero to our national hero!"
The National Association of Cider Makers ' Simon Russell says: "A Gaymer Cider Company poll found 62 per cent of English people thought cider was the national drink for the English in the way the Irish have stout and the Scots have whisky."
The cider industry takes 45 per cent of all apples grown in the UK and this has kept rural traditions alive and boost ed the rural economy, he adds.
"Using locally-grown fruit to produce locally-made drinks means fewer food miles and a real sense of identity and provenance for the region they operate in - even down to the individual orchards used to grow the fruit," Russell says.
English Wine Producers, the marketing organisation for English wine, is producing cards and shelf barkers to promote English wine on St George's Day and is organising in-store tastings. "There are vineyards right through the south east up to the most northerly commercial vineyard just outside Leeds," says marketing manager Julia Trustram Eve.
" Working with St George's Day is hugely relevant to us because it focuses on England, which we are all about."
She adds: "It is proving a growing initiative within the trade to support and promote English wines, which is brilliant."
Support your nearest producers
It can be hard to know where to start when looking to stock drinks from closer to home, but there are now plenty of organisations pledging to making it easier for retailers.
Food From Britain launched a website this month on which buyers can search a database of regional producers by area and by product category - including beers, wines, spirits & liqueurs and cider, mead & perry. Signing up to one of the organisation's local producers' groups, such as Tastes of Anglia, Yorkshire Regional Food Group or East Midlands Fine Foods is a good way to start building contacts with local suppliers (www.foodfrombritain.com, 0207 233 5111).
The Society of Independent Brewers operates a Direct Delivery Scheme that links more than 260 breweries around the country with local pubs and shops, and has already signed up to work with major retailers including Asda and Threshers (www.siba.co.uk/dds).
English Wine Producers' website has details of English wineries from the south east to the most northerly commercial vineyard, near Leeds. Visitors to the site can click on a map to find the producer closest to them, or, for specific enquiries contact marketing manager Julia Trustram Eve on 01536 772264 (www.englishwineproducers.com).
The National Association of Cider Makers' website has a section on NACM members as well as links to cider touris t attractions such as the Herefordshire Cider Route and the Somerset Cider Map (www.cideruk.com).
Supermarkets sweep up opportunity
As well as a "national" range of English wines, including Chapel Down Flint Dry (£6.99) and sparklers from Nyetimber, Ridgeview and Camel Valley, Waitrose carries some 15 wines delivered to its branches within a 30-mile radius of the winery, and plans to doubl e that . Wine buyer Justin Howard-Sneyd MW says: " This is still a work in progress but demonstrates that our commitment to local sourcing and the support of British farmers is key."
Beer & cider buyer Steve Wallace says: " We now deal with more than 80 local brewers, all within a strict 30-mile radius of the branch, who supply our branches direct, ensuring we are minimising 'beer miles'. " Last October Waitrose's first British Beer Showcase highlighted British bottled ales.
Asda has been working with SIBA to make sure all its 318 stores can stock a local beer - now all but 30 do.
"SIBA works as a hub and adviser for us, as we want to find a local beer for every store, and it has the contacts to be able to do this ," says Asda local sourcing buyer James Dodds. "It also allows us to have one point of contact, one supplier to set up instead of 52 small beer suppliers. By June we will have a local beer in every store."
Sainsbury's has a scheme in which stores can request a local beer as one of four premium bottled ales in the planogram, and stocks more than 50 local beers across the country. "We buy a lot of our regional lines direct from the brewer, which is hard work but it's the right thing to do ," says beer buyer Chris Craig.