I am building on several concepts related to food miles, product labelling, supermarket display, and the psychology of comparing yourself to others. Can we create a section inside the supermarket where all foods come from a 100 km zone? Like a store-within-a-store, you would find the local version of most things you need in the Local Store and you could see the food travel distance of your purchases on your receipt.
I want to elaborate on the ideas of divided supermarkets (Lyndsey Fenton), travel food miles (John Jenkins), signaling (Luisa Acevedo), the transparency app (Louise Wilson), package labelling and rewards (Fiona Murray) and the baacode (Meena Kadri), and add a dash of the psychology behind the smiley faces that compare your household to your neighbours used by some electricity companies.
Lyndsey advocated for an Australian section to supermarkets to differentiate from overseas products. I like this a lot but I think the distances that food travels in Australia are still huge. Within Queensland, bananas coming from Cairns travel 1,500 km to reach my local store. We have similar issues with distance in Canada.
I'd like to advocate for a branded 'Local Store' inside supermarkets, where all food comes from within 100 km (or 250 km if 100km is too restrictive). In my supermarket, there are many products beyond vegetables and fruits that are produced nearby - jams, breads, dairy, etc. - and sit alongside products from far away. I can choose these local products, but it takes that extra bit of effort and often I just pick what I know, especially if I'm tired or rushed. If there were a Local Store inside my supermarket, I would start my shopping there first and go to the other sections only if I needed something I couldn't find in the Local Store.
This could create opportunities for local companies to fill product gaps in the Local Store. Food companies with large centralized operations may complain that this model hurts their business. However, they could set up small factories/production lines in local areas, which would put their products inside the Local Store. Localizing production would help strengthen the local food supply in case of floods, cyclones, etc.
Then, because supermarkets know where the trucks arrive from, you could put each product's food travel distance on the shelf labels. Just keep it simple (no calculations of miles per item in the shipment), but I think most people - including me - don't know how far their food travels. We would need to decide if we display the distance that the final product travels from the factory to the supermarket or if we add up the distance of raw ingredients as well. I would like to see the total distance because it would encourage companies to use local suppliers for raw ingredients. But it may require some work in the background to compile the information, so it may be wise to start with the final travel distance.
Lastly, on the receipt, next to the price of each item, the supermarket could display the food travel distance for each item, with a total and average distance at the bottom. You could easily see which products had the most miles. As a gentle indicator and to engage people's competitive spirit a bit, the supermarket could draw on their database of transactions, and compare your food travel distance with an store average. For example, I spent $105 and my average food travel distance was 83 km, where the average distance for a purchase between $100 and $110 was 150 km.
Making this work would take leadership and willpower within supermarkets, cooperation with food producers and manufacturers, some database work and support from customers. However, rearranging the supermarket isn't costly (as Louise said, some shops already have separate sections for organic or gluten free foods), and the data may already be available (or may need some tweaking to get it in the right place in the right way). It would be great to test it out in a store.